‘Too much corruption’: One year later, Black workers at Kansas City VA Hospital see little change

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A yearlong FOX4 investigation uncovered claims of widespread discrimination and mistreatment of Black employees at the Kansas City VA Medical Center.

This investigation gained national attention, sparked a Senate audit and some leadership change, but most of all, a promise of better days.

One year later, workers tell FOX4 they are still dealing with some of the same issues.

“I would say that it’s worse. I would say during protests and George Floyd movement, there was incentives to show level of diversity that don’t exist,” said a current VA worker who asked to remain anonymous. “I think because there has not been any real change, people are exhausted and they have slowly started to give up. There’s too much to fight. There’s too much corruption.”

Meritless discipline, retaliation and creation of diversity and inclusion committees that have no true power are a few of the ways workers tell FOX4 the agency continues to be hostile for Black workers.

“The outside, it looked wonderful. It was very pretty and wonderful. On the inside, employees are going through pure hell. I have seen people just become silenced. Their career growth has become stifled when they speak up,” the VA worker said.

Activists and civil rights and clergy groups said they are also still waiting to see proof of change at the VA hospital.

In fact, the NAACP president told FOX4 they are still waiting on another sit down with VA Medical Center Director David Isaacks that they were promised last year.

“We did have a meeting with David Isaacks, but the meeting did not amount to very much. We had several issues we wanted to talk with him at a later date. He gave us a list of dates that were available. We called back to see if we could get on his calendar. We have not had any success,” said NAACP President Rev. Dr. Rodney Williams. “There’s been plenty of time to have responded if they were intending to respond.”

But according to a local VA spokesperson, the agency is doing better.

When FOX4 questioned the spokesperson at the hospital, we were told the VA was moving its focus to vaccinations.

Isaacks continues to decline all opportunities to speak to on camera.

FOX4 was also referred to a survey from December 2020. The agency’s own assessment highlights “tremendous improvements” and an increased satisfactory and response rating of 73%.

“KCVA employee satisfaction ratings improved the Medical Center’s overall BPTW standing to 21st among 141 VA medical centers nationwide. The jump from a 2019 ranking of 53rd on that list was the 8th largest jump for VA facilities,” according to the survey.

“The results of this survey tell me that KCVA has talented staff that are dedicated to our mission and have a healthy work environment,” Isaacks said in a quote from the press release.

Despite FOX4’s request, the VA never provided specific numbers of exactly who was counted in that survey. The VA also never provided the request for previous years’ surveys and comparisons.

“Many of the Black employees are not counted in those surveys. They are afraid to complete them. What you are seeing is not reflective of what the Black employees feel. Black employees are afraid of the system, that nothing they say or do remains anonymous,” the VA worker said.

The anonymous worker said that survey doesn’t align with company culture and that genuine change must begin at the top.

Many of the cases are headed toward federal court after no agreement could be made.

Attorney Nimrod Chapel represents 33 VA workers around the country, 18 of those from Kansas City.

“These 33 cases are just the tip of the ice burg. This is not a, ‘he said, she said.’ These are quantifiable cases, in many respects that can be resolved,” Chapel said. “This is a case where Kansas City could be on the forefront. We are going to continue to prosecute these cases.”

FOX4’s previous reports resulted in the U.S. Government Accountability Office launching an investigation into claims of systemic racism and discrimination at the VA. Their findings are still not complete.

Local lawmakers are still responding to the newest allegations:

Statement from Sen. Moran, R-Kan.:

“Any report of abuse or discrimination should be taken seriously and fully investigated. I spoke earlier this year with the new VA Secretary, Denis McDonough, about workplace discrimination that occurred at the Kansas City VA, and I expect the VA to have a zero-tolerance policy towards racial discrimination.

“While steps have been taken to create a safe and fair workplace at the KC VA, the VA must continue to ensure that those changes are fully being implemented and both veterans and staff are treated with fairness and respect.”

Statement from Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.:

“Allegations of discrimination as well as a toxic work environment that have been leveled at the KCVA are extremely serious and should be treated as such. Not only does this kind of atmosphere harm the employees who are simply trying to do their job, it hurts the veterans of the Greater Kansas City Area who rely on KCVA services on a daily basis. And, frankly, it is an embarrassment for our community. 

“Although the KCVA has not contacted me since this crisis came to the surface, I have had plenty of contact from employees. The sooner we address this issue, the sooner employees at the KCVA can focus solely on providing the best care possible for Missouri veterans.”

If you work at the Kansas City VA Medical Center and would like to tell your story, email FOX4 reporter Sharifa Jackson at Sharifa.jackson@fox4kc.com.

Download the FOX4KC news apps: iPhone and Android

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