VA union requests regional director be fired

Pattern of threats, retaliation claimed

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The head of the union that represents Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs employees has asked the VA secretary to fire regional VA director Michael Moreland because of what he says is a pattern of retaliation and threats against employees, including during the recent Legionnaires' disease outbreak here.

"This style of intimidation has proven to be a hallmark of Mr. Moreland's leadership," J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, wrote, in part, to VA secretary Eric Shinseki on Tuesday.

"You have indicated in the past there is no tolerance of retaliation in your administration. Minimally, until a full and complete investigation can be undertaken of these and possible other incidents that involve Mr. Moreland and his leadership, I would ask that you remove him from the position of [Veterans Integrated Service Network] director," Mr. Cox added in the letter, which the union sent to media Friday.

VA spokesman Mark Ballesteros said Friday in an email that the "VA is reviewing the letter and will respond to AFGE."

David Cowgill, spokesman for the Pittsburgh VA and Mr. Moreland, said he had no comment.

In the letter to Mr. Shinseki, Mr. Cox, whose union represents about 2,500 Pittsburgh VA employees, refers to six separate incidents since 2004 in which he said Mr. Moreland and those under his leadership retaliated or made threats against employees, including:

• The firing and resignation in 2005 and 2006, respectively, of Victor Yu and Janet Stout, noted Legionnaires' disease researchers at the Pittsburgh VA, who, Mr. Cox writes "were subjected to investigations and retaliation for Dr. Stout having protested the closure of the laboratory ... [and] were forced out of the Pittsburgh VA, where they may have been able to stem the recent outbreak before patients became ill."

• The alleged intimidation in February of Pittsburgh VA union leader Kathi Dahl, who claims she was told by the Pittsburgh VA's associate director, Lovetta Ford, that she could stay home from giving testimony at a recent congressional committee by saying she was sick.

• The attempts by Pittsburgh VA management to "fire, investigate and harass" two union leaders, Robert Bonner and Colleen Evans, after they raised questions about a patient death.

• Three other cases, including that of Michelle Washington, a neuropsychologist, and two other employees at the Wilmington, Del., VA medical center who suffered retaliation or intimidation. The Wilmington VA is part of the VA regional group that is based in Pittsburgh and headed by Mr. Moreland.

Dr. Stout, who now runs a private laboratory in Pittsburgh along with Dr. Yu, said Friday they were pleased the union sent the letter.

"In my opinion there's merit in Mr. Cox's call for an investigation to see if there is a pattern of intimidation and retaliation," she said. "They should investigate -- whether they will remains to be seen."

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Sean D. Hamill: shamill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2579.


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