Kerrie Witty says the Department of Veterans Affairs does not tolerate retaliation or intimidation against employees who speak out about problems at the agency.
Witty, director of the VA's regional benefits office near Seminole, said Friday that her office "encourages employees to bring to the attention of their managers and supervisors shortcomings in the delivery of services to veterans or any perceived violations of law or official wrongdoing."...
TAMPA — A conference of 200 military planners from 33 nations to discuss strategies on defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria closed Friday at MacDill Air Force Base with military leaders declaring "enormous progress" in the fight against a group that has terrorized the region.
The 10-day conference was held at U.S. Central Command, which has headquarters at MacDill, and ends two days after Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated it would take four years for a U.S.-led coalition to defeat ISIS....
11/17/14 Public Safety
TAMPA — Three shots were fired into the back of a private school bus occupied by four teenagers Monday near Waters Avenue and 17th Street as they were being driven home, Tampa police said. Nobody was injured.
A spokesman for the school said two men approached the bus on bicycles and at least one of them opened fire. No arrests have been made.
The bus was shot just before 4 p.m. with what appears to have been a medium- to high-caliber handgun, according to Tampa police. The motive is unknown, police said....
A week after a "no confidence" vote by an employee union, the chief of the Department of Veterans Affairs regional benefits office at Bay Pines says she wants to win back the confidence of any employees who doubt her leadership.
But director Kerrie Witty's response to the Nov. 5 vote may have further enraged the union leaders she was trying to mollify.
Witty sent by email Wednesday a statement to Local 1594 of the American Federation of Government Employees saying she would "take appropriate actions to gain back that confidence." Witty then launched an attack on the union, saying it communicated the vote to her in an "unprofessional and disrespectful manner."...
11/11/14 Human Interest
Richard Hardesty can tick off the countries he visited during his 25 years in the Air Force the way some folks list favorite vacation spots.
Vietnam. Korea. Iran. Morocco. Germany. France.
It could be brutally hard service. Hardesty, 81, of Seffner recalled the astonishing cold and relentless enemy in the Korean War. He spent Christmas 1953 on a troop ship off Seattle. It was not his last holiday overseas. And he said he would do it all again....
The employee union at the Department of Veterans Affairs' regional office at Bay Pines has taken a "no confidence" vote against the director of the office and accused managers of a hostile relationship with union workers.
Local 1594 of the American Federation of Government Employees took the vote last week against Kerrie Witty, the director of the VA's regional office near Seminole that handles disability claims for veterans from most of Florida, the Caribbean and part of Georgia....
The C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center boasted this week that an independent accreditation group found the facility followed the patient-scheduling rules of the Department of Veterans Affairs and used no inappropriate practices.
The Joint Commission's nationwide review of scheduling practices was ordered earlier this year after allegations that some hospitals cooked their books, using prohibited bookkeeping practices to make it appear veterans got medical care faster than was true....
A former doctor at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center who said he was ousted in 2008 for his outspokenness on patient safety and workplace discrimination issues has won a $500,000 settlement of his federal lawsuit.
The settlement by Dr. Jacques Durr, 66, who worked as a kidney specialist at the Seminole hospital, may be the largest individual settlement of a workplace discrimination lawsuit nationally against the Department of Veterans Affairs since at least 2009, according to a Treasury Department database of settlements....
Republican incumbent Jeff Brandes cruised to an easy victory Tuesday night over scrappy Democratic challenger Judithanne McLauchlan, winning a second term to represent District 22 in the state Senate.
Brandes first won the swing district seat, which covers a large swath of south Pinellas and parts of South Tampa, in 2012.
With all of the precincts reported Tuesday, Brandes was ahead by a more than a 3-2 ratio....
Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Gov. Jeb Bush appeared at an Ybor City in Tampa rally Monday with and heaped praise on Gov. Rick Scott and scorn on Democrat Charlie Crist.
"We have a candidate running for governor that's a great yapper. His name is, my mother probably wouldn't want me to say this, his name is Charlie Crist," Bush said. ""All he does is talk. He doesn't act. He doesn't lead. He doesn't believe in anything but his own ambition."...
The Department of Veterans Affairs has formally settled a federal lawsuit filed by eight agency police officers who worked at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center for $960,000, according to court documents filed Monday.
With recent settlements to three other VA police officers at the Pinellas facility, the total payout by the VA is $1.3 million.
Such settlements are usually confidential, and the public rarely sees confirmation of cash paid out. But in a highly unusual move, the officers' attorney, Ward Meythaler, and the VA asked a federal judge in Tampa to enforce the terms of the settlement. The court file does not show why they made the request....
International Auto Logistics accused another company of holding the personal vehicles of troops "hostage." The supposed hostage taker, Liberty Global Logistics, shot back that IAL was defaming it.
"Candidly, we are tired of your threats," a top IAL executive told the firm. Liberty indicated it was tired of IAL's "empty promises."
Are the firms bitter rivals? Actually, they're on the same team shipping the personal vehicles of U.S. troops....
A Clearwater resident died of colon cancer after his doctor at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center failed for three years to investigate a test showing the veteran had blood in his stool, a federal lawsuit claims.
The wife of William B. Halverson filed suit in Tampa federal court Thursday seeking unspecified damages. Halverson died on Feb. 6, 2013, at age 64.
The suit comes several months after the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report showing 76 veterans nationally were seriously harmed by long delays in getting gastrointestinal consultations. Of those, 24 died, the VA reported....
10/01/14 Human Interest
An hour or so before midnight on Aug. 27, 1984, Bud Thompson put on his light blue pajamas, tossed his clothes in a paper bag that he shoved in a closet and climbed into bed. He locked away his belt with his dirty clothes.
Thompson removed his socks and put his black dress shoes — size 10E — on the floor by his hospital bed in the mental health unit at the VA hospital at Bay Pines....
HUDSON — Their last Pennsylvania winter behind them, Maggie and Greg Brown packed up the RV and set out for Florida.
Paradise, Maggie told her friends. Shopping in Miami. The Keys in winter. Beaches and sunsets in between.
After the long trip south, they moved two months ago to a rented Hudson home with a swimming pool and a hot tub and a boat dock. They settled in with daughter Megan, grandson Tristan, and Megan's former boyfriend, Adam, the boy's father....