When Elizabeth Rivera was put on indefinite suspension from her job at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Puerto Rico, she had a foolproof argument to convince her boss to reinstate her: “You were arrested too and you weren’t suspended.”
According to a recent report, Rivera was placed on suspension in 2015 after being arrested for felony armed robbery. But when she and a union representative met with hospital CEO DeWayne Hamlin to contest the suspension, they brought a secret weapon: Hamlin’s mug shot and police record.
Hamlin had been arrested in 2014 for driving under the influence and possessing powerful painkillers for which he didn’t have a prescription. The union representative argued it was unfair for Hamlin to punish Rivera when he hadn’t faced any ramifications for his own actions.
According to the report, Hamlin quickly revoked Rivera’s suspension. He even ensured she got paid for the month she was under house arrest. He placed Rivera in the hospital security department, where she wore a court-mandated GPS monitor while she worked.
Getting Rivera reinstated was just the latest in Hamlin’s attempts to avoid facing consequences for his arrest. After a whistleblower tried to bring the CEO’s arrest record to VA administrators’ attention, he allegedly tried to have the employee fired.
Another VA employee refused to file the paperwork to fire the whistleblower, so he allegedly tried to have her fired too. He even reportedly offered her a settlement of more than $300,000 to get her to go away.
Hamlin is still a VA employee. In October, he accepted a demotion and was moved to Kentucky in exchange for administrators stopping their plans to terminate him. Administrators had been trying to fire him for years but decided it wasn’t possible. Under VA rules, he could have filed protests to block any discipline attempts.
This convoluted story is just the latest example of the VA’s toxic culture that puts employees first and veterans last. The men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country deserve better than this.