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.
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?
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.
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.”