Why I Spoke Up

Brandon Coleman | Phoenix VA Whistleblower

All Americans have freedom of speech, but I learned the hard way that government agencies sometimes prefer we don’t exercise that freedom. I spoke up about problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where veterans were dying due to negligence. For that I was punished.

Having served in the Marines, I know how important it is for veterans to get help when they need it. That’s why I started working as a VA therapist, helping veterans stay out of trouble.

But a lot of what I saw concerned me. I sometimes brought veterans to the emergency room because they were contemplating dangerous or suicidal actions. The VA hospital allowed these veterans to just walk out of the ER, leaving some to grapple with their mental illness alone.

I told management about this, but they didn’t want to hear it. One manager told me that raising the alarm is “how people get fired.” I was issued a gag order, and my personal medical records were tampered with.

Those who speak up at the VA have limited freedom of speech, at best. The agency often works harder to punish whistleblowers than it does to solve problems. Employees are scared to point out wrongdoing, and it puts veteran’s lives at risk.

Ultimately I decided to share my story with the media and with veterans’ advocacy groups. Getting the public involved not only saved my job, but most importantly it shed light on a dangerous problem. That’s why I’m proud to call myself a whistleblower—it’s a badge of honor. To those who are thinking about speaking up about wrongdoing you witness, I urge you to do it. It’s your right.