VA whistleblowers who reported employee's COVID-19 death to OSHA claim execs retaliated

Two Aurora, Colo.-based Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center employees claim the VA is a hostile work environment and that hospital leadership retaliated against them for reporting an employee's COVID-19-related death, according to an Aug. 10 report by The Denver Channel.

Garland Dotson is an occupational safety specialist at VA medical facilities across Colorado. Mr. Dotson said a VA chief approached him, "made a monkey-like motion" with her arms and torso and told him, "You look like a monkey."

"I served 22 years active duty service in the Air Force with seven deployments," said Mr. Dotson of the environment at the VA. "At least on my deployments, I knew what I was dealing with."

Reports show the incident was captured on a surveillance camera and was seen by a witness, according to the report. Records also show Mr. Dotson's claim of harassment was found to be "substantiated." However, the executive was able to keep her job, Mr. Dotson said.

"Unless you're living underneath a rock, you would know that is discriminatory," Mr. Dotson said. "Honestly, she should have been terminated, but unfortunately, if they like you, they love you. They will protect you."

Ron Mitcham, a VA safety specialist, resigned in July. He called the environment working with the VA "toxic."

The VA's safety department, which Mr. Dotson and Mr. Mitcham were a part of, reported an employee's COVID-19-related death to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

They claim hospital leadership retaliated against their department by demoting it from an independent department and placing it under facilities management. This caused a mass exodus of safety department staff, Mr. Dotson and Mr. Mitcham claim.

According to a VA spokesperson, 86 employees have departed the hospital since October 2020. Simultaneously, the hospital has gained 623 employees.

A spokesperson for the VA told The Denver Channel that allegations of misconduct are investigated and if claims are found to be substantiated, they are dealt with promptly.

"It is the belief of our leadership team that individuals should feel safe coming forward with their concerns, while also holding employees accountable when appropriate," a VA spokesperson said. "Our workforce is built on diversity and inclusion and we are proud to celebrate each other, our differences and our successes."

Mr. Dotson said he has filed several complaints and has gone all the way up to the secretary of the VA to try to bring attention to his claims.

"This is the only way to bring attention about it because if you try to talk to them, they'll ignore you," Mr. Dotson said. "They'll deny your knowledge, and they'll bury it."

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