Manage episode 195689946 series 1932146
By Jamie Fox #protectveteranprivacy @veteranprivacy
Rep. Mike Thompson Officially Inducted into the “VA Hall of Shame”
Representative Mike Thompson and his VA liaison Rebecca Hermosillo have been officially inducted into the “VA Hall of Shame” for violating veterans’ privacy and ignoring constituents who report government corruption and who request protection from government employees who abuse their civil servant positions.
U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson represents California’s 5th district, which includes Sonoma and Napa counties. Mike Thompson and his non-veteran VA liaison Rebecca Hermosillo have repeatedly demonstrated over a period of almost 3 years that they do not care about veterans’ privacy. In fact, Hermosillo does not think safeguarding protected information is important.
Hermosillo herself violated privacy laws when she emailed me my very private and protected medical information, which included personally identifiable information (PII) and Sensitive Personal Information (SPI), such as my contact information, social security number, medical diagnosis, and other sensitive information.
I never asked Hermosillo nor authorized her to email me the documents she did. When I brought it to her attention, Hermosillo reported she had sent the documents to me through secure email. When I informed her that it was impossible to send a secure email from a government email to a gmail account, she got defensive and argued with me about it. Since I had never met her, and it was apparent we were having a communication problem, I drove down to the Santa Rosa office to speak with her. I politely and patiently explained to her how secure email works.
After I explained to her my concerns about my private and protected information being sent via email, especially since the Chinese had recently stolen about 14.5 million current and former federal employees’ private and protected information through OPM’s data breach, Hermosillo had the nerve to tell me she did not think the Chinese, or anyone else for that matter, would be interested in stealing or using my private information. In fact, Hermosillo stated she thought the reports were all hype and didn’t think there was anything to be concerned about and completely missed the point of our entire conversation. Not only did she completely ignore what was important to me and my concerns, but that she failed to realize she had violated privacy laws. Her utter lack of understanding was very disturbing. I was puzzled by her poor privacy training and wondered how someone like her could be representing a congressman let alone be handling veterans’ claims, all of which contain PII and SPI.
Are congressional staffers not held to the same level of standard for safeguarding PII and SPI as other federal employees? In a superficial internet search I found it difficult to find any mention of congressional staffers rules of behavior regarding safeguarding the protected information of their constituents.
What I gathered from my conversations with Hermosillo was that it was a common practice of Mike Thompson’s office to be emailing veterans’ PII and SPI to them. This is very wrong on so many levels. Your congressperson should not be emailing you information containing PII and SPI even with your authorization, especially because many people do not fully comprehend all of the potential consequences in which their information could be compromised.
Since I was stuck between a rock and a hard place and really needed assistance with the VA, I said a prayer and did my best to work with Hermosillo, because really, she was my only option. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I really had no idea about the severity of the crimes being waged against me by my former managers at the Oakland VA regional office. My worst fears had indeed come true. Later I would learn that my former managers and co-workers at the Oakland VA regional office had indeed accessed my veteran’s C-file and were using the VA system against me in retaliation for coming forward as a witness for a former co-worker in 2008.
Over the course of a year I had repeatedly told Hermosillo my concerns about Oakland VA regional office getting access to my C-file but she never really seemed to “get it.” I even had a three way telephone conversation between Hermosillo, a congressional liaison in Washington D.C., named April, and me to explain why it was important to protect my veteran’s C-file.
Then I received an email from Hermosillo stating, “Why do you believe that? Do you have tangible proof?” Hermosillo was responding to an email I sent her re-stating again my fears about Reno and Oakland VA regional office.
Of course, just like her lack of concern for protecting my PII and SPI, she displayed an utter lack of concern for my suspicions that ultimately proved to be true. I wanted to say “No, I don’t have any f’ing proof but after dealing with these unethical bastards for the last 7 years and witnessing firsthand what lengths these people will go, I wouldn’t put it past them.”
Hermosillo said she made in inquiry about it but I never heard the result of that inquiry. She told me to go seek help from my local Veterans Service Officer, which I did. He proved to be utterly useless as well. I have a suspicion Hermosillo sent her “inquiry” about my former managers accessing my veteran’s C-file to my former managers at Oakland VA regional office. Especially after I met a former Oakland VA employee who said they had contacted Mike Thompson’s office to get help with what was happening to them at the Oakland VA regional office while they worked there at the time, but instead of helping the veteran seeking help, Mike Thompson’s inept staff sent the inquiry to the Oakland VA regional office where the veteran worked! What a bunch of morons! I have also heard stories of other veterans getting hurt by Mike Thompson’s office rather than being helped.
When my local Veterans Service Officer was unable to help me I went back to Mike Thompson’s office for help. I spoke with Hermosillo’s supervisor Stephen Gale and informed him that I did not want to work with Hermosillo because she did not care about protecting my PII and SPI, as well as, informed him that she had violated my privacy. I requested she get more privacy training so she would never compromise another veteran’s protected information again.
However, it appears Hermosillo never did complete more privacy training nor remembered our conversations discussing the difference between secure and unsecure email. When I emailed Mike Thompson’s staff on October 6, 2017, an email I had sent to VA Secretary, David Shulkin and other top VA officials, because allegedly Thompson’s office was “helping” but were a bit vague on the details, Hermosillo responded to inform me that Gale would respond to it when he returned from leave on October 16th, 2017.
The rest of the email exchange on October 6th, 2017 went like this:
Me: “I already sent it to him but he is not in the office. So that means we must wait 10 days at the least, since I know his email will be quite full because he was gone so long. So that means we are probably looking at 2 to 3 weeks before any action is taken. Thank you for being so useless.”
Hermosillo: “Jamie, The fact is that you requested to not work with me, so your comment is unwarranted and unappreciated. In addition, you are forwarding an email you sent to David Shulkin, what action do you think we should be taking on this email?”
Me: “Rebecca, I came to you over two years ago to get help with getting access to my VA C-file because the VA was not responding to me as well as to protect my private information from Oakland VARO. Instead of helping me and protecting my private information you assisted Oakland in gaining access to my information. You scoffed at me when I told you I was being discriminated against. You also sent my private medical information in an email (a VA decision) that I never asked for and when I confronted you about sending PII over unencrypted email you first argued with me that you had sent it to me via encrypted email which was not true and then downplayed the privacy violation because you did not think anyone was interested in intercepting it which was not the point. It is clear you have very little understanding about the Department of Veterans Affairs and your ignorance has hurt me. I am fairly certain I am not the only veteran you have screwed things up for. I have no idea why you are even the VA liaison. You really need to be in another position. Congressman Mike Thompson needs to hire a veteran who knows and understand the VA.”
Hermosillo: “Jamie, When we get mail from the VA, it is encrypted, we have to put a password (perhaps you didn’t understand me). When you expressed your concerns about privacy, which is the only concern I have ever received in the many years I have worked for the congressman, I changed how I communicated with YOU and would call you and tell you I had documentation for you, which is why you came into the office to pick up your C-file disk and other letters that corresponded to your case. Stephen will respond to you when he returns.”
Me: “Rebecca, You can only send encrypted emails to another email that can de-crypt the encryption. I explained this to you in your office. You cannot send me an encrypted email to my gmail account because gmail is not encrypted. Therefore when you sent me that document with my name, social security number, address, birth date, phone number and private medical information you committed a privacy violation. I can’t believe you still do not understand how encryption works and privacy protocols! I wonder how many veterans you emailed to them their private information thinking you were sending it to them encrypted? Seriously, you need more training.”
Hermosillo: “This is my last email in response to your thoughts. Stephen will respond to you when he returns.”
In Hermosillo’s own words, per her emails, she is completely ignorant, NOT nescient, about how to handle PII and SPI. Hermosillo is IGNOR – ant because she IGNORES the information and knowledge needed to increase her awareness about safeguarding PII and SPI. And I have no doubt she is misleading nescient constituents about privacy like she tried to do with me. Where is the accountability? Who holds congressional staff accountable for violating the privacy laws? She also appears to be ignorant of the fact, despite me telling her numerous times, that I came to their office to get protection from corrupt government employees.
As of January 2018, no one from Thompson’s office has gotten back to me. I sent Gale two other emails since the October 6th, 2017, an email requesting a meeting with Mike Thompson and informing his office that I had learned the infamous Kim Graves is the person responsible, if not, the hatchet man, for redacting the audits done on my C-file. During the summer I sent emails requesting Thompson’s assistance with help in writing and sponsoring a bill that would protect my privacy and other veteran’s privacy. Gale reported he forwarded the email to Washington D.C., but I never received a response. I even followed up with the email, still no response.
In early July 2017 when I first learned about the privacy breach I went in to speak with Gale to get help. He demonstrated a lack of empathy for my concerns until I told him a reporter was interested in doing a story, but that I wanted to give Thompson’s office an opportunity to do right by me. I explained how Thompson’s laissez-faire approach with protecting me from the Oakland VA regional office hurt me and probably facilitated their ability to gain access to my C-file, which had been securely protected from them until Thompson’s office got involved.
Later when I requested copies of the email communication and/or other documents and names/dates of people who Hermosillo communicated with regarding my C-file, Gale told me Thompson’s office does not log, store, or keep any documents, emails or notes. Gale reported he would not be able to tell me who Hermosillo communicated with when she was assisting me.
When I received a copy of my C-file there was only one congressional inquiry from Thompson’s office in my C-file, which came after Oakland VA regional office had gained access. So either the VA failed to submit Thompson’s congressional inquiries about my C-file before Oakland gained access or Thompson’s previous congressional inquiries were removed. I wouldn’t doubt someone removed the evidence from my C-file since I have already caught the VA removing documents from my C-file. I am still waiting on two inquiries I made regarding lost documentation, one I made in 2008 and one I made in September 2017. Since I have been waiting almost ten years on the first inquiry, I highly doubt I will ever receive any resolution on any inquiry into lost documents.
So as you can see, I have given Congressman Mike Thompson’s office ample opportunities to do right by me; almost three years’ worth of opportunities. But instead Thompson’s office has chosen to ignore me so they can remain IGNORant of the privacy violations and VA corruption. I suppose if safeguarding PII and SPI are not important even within Thompson’s office then I suppose I am really shit out of luck with trying to get help from his office with the VA. Veteran privacy is definitely not a priority with Thompson’s office.
I have no idea if Mike Thompson is running for re-election in 2018. He has been a congressman since 1999. If he does run for re-election, he will mostly likely win.
Thompson states on his website:
“As a Vietnam combat veteran and Co-Chair of the Congressional Veterans Caucus, I understand that we have a responsibility to work to support those who have bravely served our country. There are more than 21 million military veterans in our country, including some 50,000 in California’s Fifth Congressional district alone. It is our responsibility to provide these service members and their families with the care and benefits they have earned as they transition from active duty to civilian life.
No one who fought overseas or served honorably in the Armed Forces should have to fight for a paycheck, proper health care, or a roof over their head when they return home.
Nationwide, it can take almost 300 days for the Veterans Benefits Administration to process new claims, delaying access to care and benefits. At the Oakland Regional Office, which serves our district, it can take more than 500 days to process a claim. More than 80 percent of claims at Oakland are backlogged more than 125 days. This is an outrageous mess long in the making.
I have called on President Obama to personally intervene and address this issue. I have visited the Oakland Regional Office with senior officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and held regular meetings on the status of efforts to reduce the claims backlog. I cosponsored the VA Claims, Operations, and Records Efficiency (CORE) Act (H.R. 1729). This bill would require the Department of Defense to transfer certified, complete electronic service records to the VA. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report identified this issue a major factor in the delay of processing claims. I have also supported provisions requiring regular status updates from the VA on implementation of the Veterans Benefits Management System, an electronic processing system designed to end the backlog by 2015. I will continue working to hold the VA accountable and reduce this unacceptable backlog of claims. “
As you can see Thompson is long on promises and short on results. I am not sure how he can criticize other politicians for supporting certain policies or for the lack of support for certain policies that hurt Americans when he himself has turned a blind eye to the blatant corruption at the regional office that services his district. The Oakland VA regional office has a long history of illegally firing employees, rampant unethical and illegal behavior, and losing 14000 claims; all of which hurt veterans.
In fact, one of the people responsible for the lost claims, Dennis Uldricks, is also responsible for violating my privacy when he accessed my C-file against my permission. Uldricks conspired with others managers in order to protect the man who was harassing one of my former co-workers, ultimately forcing both of us to resign.
According to one of his (Dennis Uldricks) special office pets — yes he is one of those creeps who is very vocal about who he “favors” in the office particularly young women and blondes – informed me that some of the lost claims had been stashed away in his office. So of course Uldricks thinks he’s a big man and well insulated from the consequences of his actions. He gets away with lying about what he does to his employees, he gets away with harassing his employees, he gets away with protecting other predators, he gets away with losing veterans claims and trying to cover it up (claims of veterans who died before they could receive their benefits) and he is getting away with using the VA system to seek revenge on me compliments of VA’s lack of accountability and my Congressman’s failure to do the right thing.
Soon I will be canvassing for signatures for my petition to congress and when I do I will be informing voters about Thompson’s choice to ignore me and the crimes being waged against me by corrupt VA civil servants. I will be informing voters that Thompson chooses to do what’s easy instead of what’s right. Thompson may go on feeling so comfortable about his seat or his position in the community that this will probably not faze him one bit. I am sure he will have starstruck supporters to counter this information, especially coming on the heels of our community’s devastating natural disaster. No doubt winning has always been a for sure thing for him. He has been in office for almost twenty years. But I will have his supporters know that a vote for Thompson is a vote for someone who:
- Has clearly demonstrated veteran privacy is not his priority.
- Does not care that VA managers are illegally accessing current and former VA veteran employees protected information.
- Does not care that VA’s new computer system called VBMS (Veterans Benefits Management System) cannot block specific users from accessing certain veteran’s C-files.
- Does not care that veterans cannot get an accurate audit of their C-file in a timely manner.
- Does not care about safeguarding PII and SPI within his office or enforcing the VA to hold people accountable for PII and SPI violations.
- Does not hold his staff accountable for privacy violations
- Ignores constituents who report government corruption (fraud, waste, abuse) and other violations of the law.
- Makes a lot of promises he does not plan to keep.
- Turns his back on some of his fellow veterans who have very real and serious concerns.
- Does not assist constituents who want to improve the VA through policy changes
- Does what’s easy instead of what’s right.
- Does not hire veterans to be his VA liaison
- Has one of the worst and most notorious VA regional offices in his backyard yet continues to do nothing to reform it while veterans continue to die before they get their benefits.
- Has demonstrated an utter lack of understanding of the Department of Veterans Affairs
For all of the above reasons and more I officially induct Congressman Mike Thompson and his non-veteran VA liaison Rebecca Hermosillo in to the “VA Hall of Shame.”
If you are a constituent of the congressional 5th district, after signing this petition and sharing with your friends, I would appreciate it if you could also contact Congressman Mike Thompson’s office and tell him it’s never too late to do the right thing. If you care about the things Thompson is ignoring me and other veterans about please be sure to tell him.
If you happen to reside in a different district please do some research on your own congressperson. Be sure to telephone them to make an appointment and find out if their VA liaison is a veteran and then let me know. Do not be afraid to ask:
- What have they been doing to help veterans? Find out if what they have been doing is really working.
- What is the performance status of the VA health care facilities and/or regional office in their jurisdiction?
- Is your congressperson(s) actively pursuing VA reform? How?
- Does your congressperson(s) send out canned emails that do not even address your specific concerns about the VA and/or veteran issues?
- Does your congressperson(s) do what’s easy or what’s right when dealing with VA issues?
- Is your congressperson(s) doing something about VA corruption and VA accountability?
- Have they sponsored or co-sponsored any legislation to help veterans?
- How well does your congressperson(s) understand how the VA works, how to navigate it, and what do they have planned to make the system more accessible for all veterans?
- Is your congressperson(s) emailing PII and SPI to veteran constituents? Is protecting veteran privacy important? How important?
Ask questions that will fish out whether or not your congressperson(s) is a show pony who just likes to smile before the camera, say a few words that he knows most of his constituents will favor, and cut ribbons or is your congressperson(s) ready to get into the trenches with you, get dirty and do what’s necessary to fix a broken system?
Then, when you are canvassing and reaching out to fellow voters, be sure to let them know what you learned and that your choice in candidate is clearly the better candidate because he or she will do what it takes to fulfill the nation’s promise to all of our veterans and not to just some of our veterans. Veterans do not need any more show ponies. Veterans need a war horse. Veterans need people who do what’s right instead of what’s easy.
Until VA can make due on its promises, veterans need advocates to keep the conversation alive and carry it forward so more people can hear it and act on it. For me, I need at least 100,000 signatures before Congress will even listen to what I have to say. Please help make my voice heard. By signing this petition and sharing with your friends, you help me get the attention of our legislatures, who can help me and other veterans like me by:
- Making the VBA provide me with an unredacted list of every person who has accessed or queried any part of my C-file.
- Make VBA managers and employees accountable for violating my privacy and for abusing their positions of power to retaliate against me.
- Pass laws that will protect my C-file and other veterans’ C-files from specific employees and managers.
- Make each veteran a watchdog over their own C-file by releasing the unredacted accounting of disclosures immediately upon request and whenever requested. And make the reporting of privacy violations easy and efficient. Every Veteran has a right to know who has been viewing their private information and there must be an enforceable law to deter people from accessing a veteran’s C-file without first having authorization or permission by the veteran.
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There you will find a link to the most current petition and find other mediums with which to keep the conversation alive. Please be sure to check back to this and other podcasts because I will be adding a survey question feature so you can weigh in on what you think and feel and experience.
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