The president of Maricopa County’s branch of the NAACP said he informed Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Eric Shinseki and Senator John McCain about management problems with the Phoenix VA more than a year ago but nothing was done.
“You can call it bullying, they can call it intimidation, but the discrimination is rampant, rampant within the VA,” Rev. Oscar Tillman told ABC15 in an exclusive interview.
On Wednesday, the Office of Inspector General released an interim report on the status of Phoenix’s VA system. It states that investigators have received “numerous allegations of daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers.”
Tillman, a disabled veteran who served 23 years in the U.S. Air Force, said he wrote letters to Shinseki and McCain to discuss complaints about personnel and discrimination issues that highlight many of the same problems.
Letters provided to ABC15 show Tillman first wrote to Shinseki in October 25, 2012. When he didn’t get a response, he contacted McCain’s office for help.
“In a political hot year, seems like everybody is jumping on and saying something about it,” Tillman said. “But where were they, including the congressman who’s retiring? I sent them a letter and got no response.”
Asked if he believed the recent outcry was political theater, Tillman said, “It’s political theater in an election year and it’s sad to say.”
In a statement, McCain’s office said the allegations are “flatly untrue.” A spokesperson said that their office helped Tillman forward his concerns to the VA’s Congressional Affairs Office and set up a meeting.
Read the full statement from Sen. McCain’s office at the bottom of the story.
Tillman said he has nine open discrimination complaints with the VA in Phoenix. He said the complaints show one of the worst patterns of mismanagement he has ever seen.
He also said he believes Shinseki should resign and believes “somebody needs to go to jail” for some of the things that have happened at the VA.
“If the employees aren’t doing their jobs, do you think they are going to take care of patients coming in there? They are not,” he said.
Tillman claims to have proof of the mismanagement, including employees who were inappropriately hired into top positions. He said he is willing to share the information with investigators.
“I have that. I even have their position numbers. So they cannot deny it. I know who they are,” he said.
A spokesperson for Sen. McCain released the following statement:
Senator McCain's office acted immediately and appropriately on Rev. Tillman's concerns - any contention to the contrary is flatly untrue. In fact, our office immediately forwarded his concerns to the VA's Congressional Affairs Office in Washington, and within weeks he received a personal letter from then-Phoenix VA head Sharon Helman offering to meet to discuss his concerns.
It is bizarre and unfortunate that Reverend Tillman would try to turn this tragedy into a partisan issue. Particularly with today's developments, all Arizonans, regardless of party, are united in calling for the President to bring leadership, accountability and transparency to the VA and how it provides care to our cherished veterans.
Senator McCain is very proud of his office's work on behalf of the people of Arizona - including handling some 2,500 veterans cases since 2013 - and knows there is much more work to be done.