A VA employee on paid administrative paid leave after speaking out about problems with the treatment of suicidal veterans, had a private meeting with VA Secretary Bob McDonald during his visit to Phoenix Thursday. Brandon Coleman has worked for the VA for 7 years. The past four he has been an addiction therapist at the mail VA hospital in Phoenix. In January, Coleman filed for whistleblower protection. He went public with his concern that he saw suicidal veterans who came to the VA for help, walk out of the hospital without anyone evaluating them. He also said veterans with behavioral and mental health issues were not getting proper care. Not long after going public, Coleman was placed on administrative leave for allegedly threatening a fellow VA employee. He believes he is being retaliated against for speaking out. He's made enough noise since going public that he garnered the attention of Sec. McDonald, who asked to meet with Coleman. The two men, along with Coleman's lawyer, met for about 40 minutes Thursday morning. "The good thing about him being here is the dialogue that needs to occur. And within the Phoenix VA there's just this cancer to where people are afraid to come forward cause look at what they can do to an employee like me," said Coleman.The former Marine said McDonald asked for a detail account about what his concerns were and what had happened to him after he went to VA officials with his complaints. Coleman said he told McDonald everything and McDonald seemed to listen intently, express concern and seem truly sincere about wanting to make changes in order to get veterans the care they deserve. "You know I'm hopeful something something's going to get done. I can't say that I have belief that this is going to work out, other than the way that it's suppose to work out. But I know that, at the end of the day, no matter what, I did what was right. I don't have a problem going to sleep tonight because I told the truth," said Coleman.
Last year during McDonald's visit to the Phoenix VA he expressed no tolerance for whistleblower retaliation. Coleman told McDonald, not only had he been placed on leave after speaking out, but a program Coleman designed and implemented for veteran's with addiction issues, was canceled, even though it had proven successful. McDonald reportedly told Coleman he would look into it. "The only time that I, I, showed any doubt, that I showed any doubt during the meeting was, he said he was going to look into it. And I said sir, with all due respect I've been told that a million times," said Coleman.
Coleman's attorney, Alyson Oliver, flew in from Michigan to accompany him to his meeting with McDonald. She and he firm represent many of the veterans across the county who believe their health suffered because of the extended wait time exposed in 2014. She was upbeat about the meeting and was thrilled the secretary asked formally for her input.
"He offered to me the ability to me to write up a proposal. You know, what do you think would help. I'm so eager to do that. I'm going to do it. I'm going to try to get it done by this weekend and submit it. He promised he'd look at it and you know I feel really hopeful about that," said Oliver.
Coleman wants to return to his job at the VA and he wants his 52 week Motivation for Change program reinstated. He wants to continue to work with veterans with addiction issues. It is his passion. "My take away from the meeting is at least a dialogue has begun. I'm hoping with the president's visit tomorrow that it will bring more light onto the situation," said Coleman. Copyright 2015 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.