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Does government union chief’s threat show AFGE’s hand on veterans care?

By   /   February 12, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 11 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. – Whistleblower Ryan Honl has often claimed the government union that represents staff at the troubled Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center cares more about big labor business and politics than they do veterans.

A story Thursday in The Daily Caller would seem to support Honl’s position.

David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees threatened to “whoop” VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s “ass” during a fever-pitch speech Sunday at a union conference in Washington, D.C.

“I’m prepared to work with Bob McDonald. But I am also prepared to whoop Bob McDonald’s ass,” Cox said, according to the publication, which obtained a recording of the speech.

Photo by Fedsmith.com

WHAT’S HE GOING TO WHOOP? David Cox, president of the nation’s largest government union, made some pretty pointed threats at a recent union conference. A whistleblower who exposed abuses at the Tomah Va Medical Center, says Cox showed the union’s true colors in his pep talk.

Why is the union chief so upset? Is it because the Department of Veterans Affairs has failed so often to deliver the kind of care that Americans expect for their veterans?

Not really.

It seems Cox just wants to make sure he’s looking out for his own.

“He’s going to start treating us as the labor partner … or we will whoop his ass, I promise you,” the union chief said of McDonald.

Cox praised his AFGE members for “fighting reform bills aimed at changing how the Department of Veterans Affairs does business, particularly with hiring and firing.” Some of those measures would go a long way toward getting rid of bad doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff members, like those accused of abusive practices at VA hospitals and clinics.

“I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for the hard work that’s going on,” Cox said, as quoted by The Daily Caller. “You’ve been on the ground every day of your lives. You’ve been fighting bad, bad, bad legislation.”

The union head also took aim at House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, calling him “a fool,” the Daily Caller reported.

Miller, a Florida Republican, has led the charge to reform the VA, including pushing the VA Accountability Act.

“The bill would provide the VA authority to fire or punish an employee for two reasons: misconduct or poor performance. The legislation has failed repeatedly to move through Congress because of Democratic opposition. President Barack Obama has said himself that even if it did manage to pass, he would issue a veto,” wrote the Daily Caller’s Jonah Bennett.

Cox’s comments and AFGE’s fight against VA system reform comes as no surprise to Honl, who blew the whistle on overprescription of opioids and other abuses at the Tomah VA center. Honl was a member of AFGE’s local in Tomah until the Gulf War veteran left his secretarial position at the medical center with a big target on his back.

“There have been a lot of things said behind closed doors among AFGE leadership that denigrate people,” Honl told Wisconsin Watchdog in an email. “People who don’t agree with AFGE’s federal-jobs-first-over disabled-veterans mentality are ridiculed, spoken about negatively behind closed doors.”

“Too often union members themselves are part of the corruption in the VA.  AFGE has become a Democrat super PAC scratching the backs of politicians who also put veterans second and politics first,” he said.

Union representatives did not return two requests for comment.

Honl recently told Watchdog that he’s been taking calls from Democrat staff members pressuring him to walk back his comments about key lawmakers he says failed to follow-up on his complaints about the Tomah facility.

RELATED: Tomah VA whistleblower says he’s getting pressure from unhappy Dems

He said he received an urgent call from an aide to Wisconsin junior U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, last week “reminding him” of all the things the senator has done for veterans, Tomah staff, and for Honl – months after her office was exposed for doing nothing with whistleblower complaints.

“He kept telling me Tammy doesn’t sell out to the special interests, except the union dropped the ball years ago and the Democrats knew what was going on at Tomah long before vets started dying,” Honl said.

The Baldwin staffer, Ken Reidy, referred Wisconsin Watchdog’s questions to the senator’s press office. A spokesperson for the senator has not responded to requests for comment.

Honl also has accused the president of the AFGE local of caving in to pressure from her national union and from Democratic Party officials to change her story about a memo detailing Tomah VA abuses she sent to members of Congress in 2009. The memo to then-U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, both Democrats, was marked “hand-delivered.” Lin Ellinghuysen, president of the local, has said she does not believe the memo ever reached its intended audience.

“Now the union president here in Tomah is saying I am betraying the union. It’s politics for the Democrats. … They’ve circled the wagons about what’s going on at the VA,” Honl asserted in a recent Wisconsin Watchdog story. “Russ Feingold, Tammy Baldwin, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, they all want the VA to be a model of health care and it’s not. The unions, all they care about is their federal jobs. They put those jobs ahead of veterans.

“If they cared about what happening with the veterans, why wouldn’t (the union) go to everybody, including the Republicans” with the complaints of abuse, Honl added. “But the union just goes to the Democrats.”

Part of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal
  1. After damaging silence, Baldwin now calls for probe of troubled VA center
  2. Legal expert says U.S. Sen Tammy Baldwin is in full ‘damage control’
  3. Baldwin aide breaks silence, alleges senator engaged in ‘coverup’
  4. Baldwin’s public relations team kicks into high gear following ethics complaint
  5. Ethics watchdog urges Senate committee to investigate Baldwin
  6. Tammy Baldwin’s political fixer is helping Hillary attack voter ID
  7. Senate committee asking if FBI missed the call in veteran’s death at VA
  8. When lawmakers failed Wisconsin’s veterans
  9. Is political pressure behind Lin Ellinghuysen’s differing accounts on VA memo?
  10. Bernie Sanders failed to act in deadly VA scandal, whistleblower says
  11. Does government union chief’s threat show AFGE’s hand on veterans care?
  12. What would Russ Feingold’s 1992 self say to the 2015 version?
  13. Ad attacking Feingold asserts veterans died because of ‘politicians who looked the other way’
  14. Feingold’s campaign caught up in VA scandal memo war
  15. PolitiFact Wisconsin trusts Russ Feingold to deliver its facts
  16. Sources: Ron Kind received call from Jason Simcakoski not long before Marine’s tragic death
  17. Captain Campaign Finance Reform, Russ Feingold, changes ‘dark money’ tune
  18. Baldwin talks transparency while keeping her secrets in Tomah VA scandal
  19. Ron Kind knew about Tomah VA abuse years before the story broke
  20. Ron Kind now solving Tomah VA scandal one press release at a time
  21. Tammy Baldwin silent on her failures as she blasts Tomah VA medical center
  22. Tomah VA whistleblower says he’s getting pressure from unhappy Dems
  23. Feingold’s facts fail again in face of Tomah scandal
  24. Senate field hearing to shine more light on Tomah VA scandal
  25. Tomah VA supervisor accused of misconduct gets promoted
  26. Senate hearing to look deeper into scandal-plagued Tomah VA hospital
  27. Kind flees questions, Senate committee turns up heat on Tomah VA hospital scandal
  28. Report: Tomah VA hospital story is one of ‘systemic failures’
  29. Tomah VA hospital whistleblower: ‘It will not change’
  30. Ron Kind breaks silence on call from veteran victim at Tomah VA hospital
  31. VA union holds rally to save itself, Tomah whistleblower says
  32. Sound familiar? Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth accused of retaliation at VA
  33. Emails say Tomah VA patient reached out to Feingold, Kind, in 2008 about abuse
  34. Johnson: Hold accountable those who put Tomah veterans at risk of HIV, hepatitis
  35. Veteran jumps out of third-floor window at Tomah VA hospital
  36. Tomah VA employee: ‘We have forgotten who we work for’
  37. Congressional committees want answers on Tomah VA hospital
  38. Senators ask Pence, Trump transition team, to hold troubled VA accountable
  39. Veterans advocate: VA hospitals’ ‘improvement’ doesn’t tell whole story
  40. Tomah VA Medical Center’s ‘Candy Man’ stripped of license
  41. Opinions differ on whether it’s ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ at Tomah VA
  42. Latest data show Tomah VA hospital improving in opioid prescriptions, veteran satisfaction
  43. VA secretary nominee faces little resistance, lots of challenges
  44. Insiders: Tomah VA troubles continue with nurse shortage, neglectful care
  45. VA whistleblower has questions for Congressman Ron Kind
  46. Johnson brings back whistleblower protection bill as Sunshine Week opens
  47. Iraq war veteran burned by ‘very frustrating process’ at VA


M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.