I was wrongfully terminated from the VA.
Warning: long af
After I got out of the army I became a mess and underwent a few mental health problems (anxiety and depression) . I made a massive but grueling recovery and have become completely functional. I am also 70% disabled (service-connected) and it qualified me for this neat program for disabled vets that is essentially a paid education and internship to become a certified contract specialist. I jumped on it quick, submitted my resume, went through a few interviews, and was one of 31 who were accepted out of 200+ that applied. I am a 24 year old male and was a commended intelligence analyst in the military.
I arrived at the VA academy in Maryland, and it didn't take long before I started experiencing what would become a daily occurence. For some reason I attract a lot of attention from others in my cohort and some of the staff. Basically there are butts in my face all day, people staring at my crotch, rubbing up on me, etc. I'm not even gay and everyone just refuses to get the picture. I didn't want to call it sexual harassment because I think this is normal human behavior, but unfortunately it started to cause me some anxiety which I was afraid might affect my job performance (which it never did). My supervisor is female and she had made some gestures before but nothing compared to the perpetual occurences from many of my coworkers (that can be observed by any third party at any time). The other supervisor is a confident and charismatic guy and I thought he might've had similar experiences, so I approached him for some advice on how to cope.
I tell him about my coworkers and that it was triggering my anxiety. I didn't mention any names because, for one: there are too many of them, and two: it was not my intention to file any claim or go after anybody. I just wanted coping advice. Well he panicked. The fact that I went to him instead of my supervisor made him think that I wanted to incriminate her or something of that nature. He tells me that I have gone through some stressful events and might be possibly seeing things that aren't really there. I am surprised by his response but naively think he is looking out for me. He asks very nervously if it's okay with me if he told my supervisor about this. I say "okay if that's what you think is best."
I have a meeting with my supervisor and I tell her what's happening to me (realizing this is already going further than I intended). She responds with my mental health and sets me up with an expedited appointment with a VA mental health provider, all while not acknowledging the issues I brought up. They still have me going at this point.
I have my appointment with the mental health provider. He recognizes the huge recovery I made and I feel optimistic and confident that my mental health is in no way the source of what is happening. The doc continues the plan to wean me off of my meds due to said recovery.
About a week later I have another meeting with my supervisor, but this time her boss (the architect of the program) was present. She starts off with my mental health and whether I am taking care of my issues. mentions that I can be fired for neglecting it. I notice that she is being careful not to mention the sexual harassment and it is at that point that I realize what's going on. I tell her I am taking care of it 100%. She makes another passive threat about the health neglect. I ask if there have been any indications that I have? But provides a nonanswer. Her boss remains observant and careful. She keeps indirectly insisting that I am being delusional. She gives a condescending story about how she misread a sign one time, then she tries to get me to admit that I am conflicted and unsure about the situation. I say I'll bring up the elephant in the room and discuss the sexual harassment.
She keeps pressing mental health, and I tell her it's a totally separate subject. Repeats the health threat. She keeps asking if I am being transparent with my doctors. I say I tell them everything because it would be counterproductive otherwise. She mentions a camera in her condescending story, and I tell them we can take a camera outside right now and it will capture the sexual harassment. I say it's very observable but they just stare at me nervously. I mention it's concerning that I report sexual harassment and the first thing out of their mouth is that I'm hallucinating. I say it gives me a sick feeling in my stomach.
At this point I stop caring about the sexual harassment which was only a nuisance to begin with. What they're trying to do now is to sweep it all under the rug by firing me for "neglecting my health." That really rubs me the wrong way but I tell them all I want to do is finish my degree and complete the program (almost apologetically). I say I need to learn to deal with it because the unwanted attention is going to follow me everywhere I go. She was nervous, transparent, and sloppy the whole time. Her boss was just being really cautious. The meeting concludes and I go to my cubicle (that my coworkers have designated as their breeding ground).
That evening I put everything together and record my log of that meeting. I realize their totally inappropriate plan to get rid of me and debate whether to report it to ethics. I decide against it and the following morning I ask her boss if I can speak to him privately. I show him the log and tell him I want to be cool about the situation and will not persue anything because regardless of what happened I still just want to complete the program. I tell him I don't want or need any special treatment but ask him to please stop trying to fire me. I tell him I will drop the sexual harassment and will never bring it up again. He gets visibly nervous and agrees with me. I naively think this is all behind me.
A week later we are having a ceremony at a university and I sit near the entire management team, including the vice chancellor of the academy. People around me start their shenanigans including some from their table. I cooly ignore it all (like I always have), but I see them notice it and they get visibly uncomfortable. That same day my supervisor and her boss terminated me because they "feel" I can't function properly in the cohort. They say they "investigated" and didn't find any indications of my claims. They say the vice chancellor herself signed it. They say I can voluntarily resign or they will make the choice for me. I tell them that what they're doing is totally inappropriate and that I have to protect myself. There is a security guard waiting outside the conference room waiting to escort me to my cubicle. They take my PIV card and I walk away a bit shaken up and humiliated. It was an elaborate plan to get rid of me and it goes up to the vice chancellor herself. I realize that they are all teaming up against me and it's my word against theirs now. I am essentially helpless at this point.
I call ethics and they are sending me a package but I unfortunately don't have much faith in the government anymore.