ANDREA PLATE WRITES – What’s the big deal about Dr Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s embattled nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs?
It’s obvious, if the allegations are true. They include: creating a hostile work environment. Drinking excessively on the job. Prescribing and dispensing medications inappropriately, to his own staff, mostly on trips overseas (meds to wind down, then to perk up over torturous time zone changes).
Such allegations, if true, would be horrific in any work environment, but perhaps nowhere worse than the Department of Veterans Affairs.
For fourteen-and-a-half years, I was a social worker at the West Los Angeles branch of the Veterans Administration (VA), one of the largest within this leviathan of integrated healthcare. I dealt with the psychological and addiction issues of solders of our wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Watching the news recently, I am reminded of: The paraprofessional worker who somehow made it to work every day despite being in full relapse mode on heroin. When he nodded off at meetings, I had to slam windows to startle him awake. It was embarrassing to both veterans and staff. An addiction therapist, himself a veteran, led substance abuse groups while high on cocaine (or some other stimulant). For a while, he blamed his excessively runny nose on bad bouts of flu or exposure to anthrax before admitting the truth and taking leave. Is it asking too much for a substance abuse employee to be sober? My point: VA culture, as I know it, involves a lot of looking the other way… until the inescapable truth stares you back at you, hard.
Watching CNN, I am reminded of oh, so many things: About nurses stealing medications and shipping them to relatives in their impoverished Southeast Asian home countries. About the excessive prescription and distribution of medications to patients. in the realm of patient care. I remember the fifty-something Army veteran who died in a motel off-campus, having overdosed on methadone and benzodiazepines prescribed by multiple VA MDs who failed to coordinate patient care; and the 27-year-old returnee from Iraq who died in a residential treatment program on VA grounds, also having overdosed on prescribed medications.
Staff-to-staff distribution? Let’s not even think about it.
Did Jackson create a hostile work environment? Who knows? But let me tell you, charges like that, in such a highly politicized atmosphere, are made all the time. I was once accused of endangering staff safety because, with TV images of race riots in Ferguson, Missouri, blasting from the TV, I refused to forbid thirty angry veterans from marching downstairs to confront staff over perceived mistreatment of one of the brethren.
In a way, it doesn’t matter whether the charges against Jackson are true. Yes, VA culture has improved somewhat over the years, but the battle has not been won and Ronny L. Jackson is the wrong guy to lead the charge. The troubled VA needs someone squeaky clean—if there is such a person — in command. The institution has long been shrouded by clouds of suspicion. Now is the time to clear the air.
Andrea Plate is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who lives in Los Angeles. The UC Berkeley and UCLA Policy School graduate teaches ‘Gender and the U.S. Military’ in LMU’s Women and Gender Studies Department. She has just finished a book on working with returning and long-returned American solders titled “MADNESS.”