Neglected Florida Veteran Threatened with Harassment Charges over VA Complaints

Today, I received a disturbing report out of a Tampa Florida Veterans Hospital. A female Veteran claims to have been threatened with formal harassment charges by a James A. Haley Veterans Hospital Police Detective for her email communications—negative in nature—to the hospitals Assistant Director, Suzanne Tate.

According to the Florida Veteran, after months and countless unsuccessful attempts to contact a VA Patient Advocate to resolve medical care problems (for herself and her veteran husband at James A. Haley Hospital), the Florida Veteran decided to contact the facility Director about the couple’s unresolved issues. Assistant Director Tate, seemingly concerned, intervened and furnished the veteran with an email address to contact Tate directly with a description of the problems requiring resolution.

This recommendation would prove fruitless as well.

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The Florida Veteran, who had previously received treatment at the James A. Haley VA for skin cancer, went on to claim her efforts to follow VA procedures were all but ignored. The Veteran claimed she experienced exceptionally long call wait times, and when she was able to speak with someone, she was treated in a disrespectful and discourteous fashion by VA employees. She claims one employee, who she contacted about her husband’s hearing aid repair, was dismissive and hung up on her.

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After not receiving responses to many pressing issues, eventually this veteran’s patience reached its limits, and she sent a less than polite email to Assistant Director Tate. The email was not vulgar or threatening. However, the Florida Veterans emailed comments about VA employees were, perhaps, personal, and critical, something about “not earning their bonuses” and substandard treatment of veterans.

Apparently, Assistant Director Tate found the criticisms threatening and as a result, the Florida Veteran was contacted by Detective Matt Gustin of the James A. Haley VA Police Department.

I am told Detective Gustin informed the Florida Veteran that he was giving her “courtesy call” from his personal cell phone and recommended she pursue her issues with the VA through proper channels. He went on to warn the Florida Veteran that if she continued to write “threatening” emails to the Patient Advocate or Assistant Director, that formal harassment charges would be filed with her local Police Department. Florida harassment statutes provide intimidating penalties, and consequences.

If a Florida Veteran were found guilty of such a charge, it would all but eliminate their ability to call, email or visit their local VA Hospital for care.

It also bears mentioning my research for this article unearthed a 2006 Department of Veterans Affairs investigation of the James A. Haley VA Hospital Police Department. This investigation was prompted by a request from then Florida Rep. Michael Bilirakis, stemming from an alarming number of excessive force complaints involving Haley VA Hospital police personnel, made by veteran patients.

No emails from the Florida veteran interviewed for this story, (reviewed by my associates or myself) could be remotely considered threatening or intimidating. Critical and perhaps elevated, but nowhere near a legal threshold for a licensed VA Police Detective to threaten harassment charges.

After 5 minutes waiting for the James A. Haley Veterans Administration Hospital phone operator to locate Assistant Director Suzanne Tate’s extension and an additional 20 minutes in hold time, I finally reached Tate’s office for comment. I was politely referred to the media relations office.

I also contacted the James A. Haley Police Department and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for Veterans Affairs. The Haley Police Department referred me to VA media relations, and the OIG referred me to the Regional Veterans Affairs Office at James A. Haley VA Hospital.

At the time of publication, Detective Matt Gustin had not returned the message I left from my personal cell phone, as a “courtesy call” on his personal cell phone, provided by the Florida Veteran, who he allegedly threatened with harassment charges.

At time of publication, I had not heard back from the VA media relations office I contacted by phone a,d email for comment.

This writer was left to draw the conclusion that unless you shut up and take what you are given at the James A. Haley VA Hospital; you could be cut off from the medical benefits you earned fighting for your country. It appears government employees (Civil Servants) now interpret complaints about their abysmal treatment of our neglected Veterans as standard operating procedure, and at some VA Hospitals the police are now acting as First Amendment censors.

That classifies as official oppression in my book. What say you mister Inspector General?

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