The United States Office of Special Counsel received almost 2,000 complaints about VA care in 2016. Carolyn Lerner, Special Counsel, requested an extra $2.4 million in the 2018 budget to handle the complaints, since the OSC anticipates receiving more cases in fiscal year 2017. VA Secretary David Shulkin and President Trump have encouraged more VA whistle-blowers to come forward to address VA employees’ concerns without fear of retaliation. Curtis Cashour, Secretary Shulkin’s spokesman, stated: “Our goal is to rebuild trust among employees and supervisors so that problems can be solved at the lowest level possible.” United States Representative for New Hampshire, Ann Kuster explained: “We know that far too many veterans face unacceptable hurdles when accessing VA care, and whistle-blowers play an important role in identifying areas where change is needed.” Whistle-blowers from Maine, Rhode Island, Utah, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina have come forward to report mismanagement and poor care that threatens the health of veterans at other VA facilities. Mr. Cashour said that if any whistle-blowers feel they have been victims of retaliation, they should contact the new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.
Federal law establishes the floor for anti-discrimination laws, but many states and cities have more protective language for employees. Federal laws protect against discrimination on the basis of age, disability, national origin, color, religion, and sex. Many states have added to this list of protected categories. California, for example, protects workers from discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and marital status, categories that federal law does not. Additionally, most federal anti-discrimination laws are not triggered unless the employer has at least 15 or 20 employees. Other states do not have any protections for certain categories, like Alabama, which does not have a statute to protect against race discrimination. Multistate employers should establish the best policy for their organization as a whole, which may mean a more-employee friendly policy than that offered in some states. Employers should set an example that makes all employees feel protected and valued.
Alexis Berger was recently awarded $40 million by an arbitrator in a gender discrimination case against her employer, Kargo, a mobile advertising firm. Kargo has sued in federal court to reduce the damages to $3 million. If the settlement is upheld, it will be among the highest sexual harassment/discrimination verdicts and settlements. Ms. Berger filed her EEOC charge of discrimination in the spring of 2016 and was fired that July. Her allegations include the fact that Kargo tolerated misbehavior by her male colleagues but disciplined Ms. Berger for similar behavior and ignored inappropriate comments about Ms. Berger’s sexuality. Kargo claims it fired Ms. Berger because of complaints about her managerial style and the fact that she made inappropriate comments herself. The arbitrator stated that overwhelming evidence showed that Kargo allowed sexual discrimination to be a motivating factor in the decision to fire Ms. Berger and that the termination was “a collaborate orchestration carried out in a malicious, insidious, and humiliating manner.”
The United States is investigating lenders who are allegedly pressuring veterans into mortgage refinances they don’t need. Ginnie May, a government-owned corporation that exists to make mortgages more affordable, is conducting the probe. Ginnie Mae guarantees repayment on $2 trillion in mortgage bonds, even if borrowers default on their loans. Ginnie Mae is concerned that some lenders are improperly pushing veterans to refinance loans that have been wrapped into Ginnie Mae securities. Lenders are encouraging consumers to refinance loans continually during a short period of time, a practice known as churning, which generates higher fees for lenders and may leave veterans with larger loan balances. Ginnie Mae and the Department of Veterans Affairs has created a task force to address churning and other abusive practices by lenders. The agencies could decide to ban lenders from Ginnie Mae programs or impose restrictions on refinances. Banks that make loans through Veterans Affairs offer terms that are not available to most borrowers, which include no requirement for down payments and adding closing costs to loan balances so that veterans do not have to pay them at the time of sale. But these lenders do not have an obligation to ensure… Continue Reading Veterans’ Mortgage Refinances
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed because people with disabilities have one of the highest unemployment rates in the United States. If EEOC cases are an indicator, health care and medical providers, such as nursing homes, hospitals, and managed care facilities, are among the greatest perpetrators of disability discrimination. The EEOC settled a case earlier in 2017 against an Arizona support services company that allegedly had a practice of firing employees with disabilities who needed extended leave or reassignment rather than providing them with reasonable accommodations as required by the ADA. In August, the Dependable Health Services health care staffing agency was sued by the EEOC for allegedly firing an employee suffering from sickle-cell anemia, and last year they sued an Arkansas hospital who fired an employee who had a seizure and asked to be moved to another position that involved indirect patient care or a leave of absence until she recovered. In late 2015, the EEOC settled a case against a nationwide dialysis provider who fired a nurse with breast cancer and then refused to rehire her because she requested more medical leave to continue her chemotherapy treatment. The health care industry must be especially vigilant when… Continue Reading Health Care Disability Discrimination
Robert McGeehan was recently indicted on charges of third degree insurance fraud and second degree theft by deception after he collected over $75,000 in federal workers’ compensation benefits. Between July 2015 and June 2017, McGeehan received Workers’ Comp benefits and benefits from the United States Postal Service by falsely claiming that an on the job fall in 2008 rendered him medically unfit to perform his duties as a postman. He did fall on ice while delivering mail in 2008 and had surgery to repair torn cartilage. The USPS deemed him fit to return to work on light duty in 2009, 2010, and 2012, but McGeehan disputed those findings and turned down other jobs within the USPS. McGeehan, however, was photographed zip lining while on vacation and rappelling in June and July of 2016. USPS investigators recorded him doing yardwork outside his home with a chainsaw and handsaw and throwing logs. As Prosecutor Christopher Iu stated: “Those who unlawfully collect workers’ compensation benefits undermine the integrity of the government assistance program and cause funds to be diverted from people who truly need them. The indictment of this postal worker sends a message that workers’ compensation fraud is a serious crime with… Continue Reading New Jersey Postman Steals Workers’ Compensation Benefits
In Indiana, a woman stole her husband’s identity while they were still married and looted his 401(k) retirement fund. Patricia Bippus-Allen was sentenced to five years in federal prison this summer after pleading guilty to subordination of perjury, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud, and aggravated identity theft. She devised an elaborate scheme with the help of her brother, who impersonated her husband, and made multiple unauthorized withdrawals from her husband’s 401(k) account. In 2010, Bippus-Allen filed joint Chapter 13 bankruptcy without her husband’s knowledge. During the course of the bankruptcy proceedings, she created documents with forged signatures from her husband and had her brother impersonate her husband at a hearing. As a result of the bankruptcy plan, almost $74,000 was deducted from Bippus-Allen’s husband’s direct deposit paychecks without his knowledge or consent, and she gained access to those funds. She also took out more than $24,000 from her husband’s 401(k) and took out more than $16,000 in loans on the retirement account.
The VA has implemented an effort to screen and treat veterans under their care for the Hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C experts say this proactive approach should be a model for other government health programs and private insurers. Although about 1 percent of the United States population has the virus, veterans who use the VA for health care suffer from it at a rate of 4.8 percent. Vietnam-era veterans have it at an even higher rate. 7.5 percent of these veterans who use the VA have tested positive for the virus. There are many theories why this particular demographic suffers from the virus at higher rates. One is that it was not identified as a distinct virus until 1989, and baby boomers grew up in an era when blood wasn’t screened and before disposable needles were common in medical settings. Screening of blood did not begin until 1992. Older Hepatitis C drugs required shots injected into the stomach and had severe side effects. New medications are nearly 100% effective and have little to no side effects. Since 2014, the VA has cured 96,000 patients of the virus. In 2016, Congress provided billions in funding, and pharmaceutical companies released new versions… Continue Reading VA Helping to Eradicate Hepatitis C