Counselor Merri Busch, CRC

Benjamin KrauseAdministration of VR&E Service unlawfully prohibited pro-veteran VA counselor Merri Busch from observing her right to Free Speech off-duty by forbidding her contact with disabled veterans she helped on Facebook as a private citizen. The order is in violation of her First Amendment right to Free Speech and raises a lot of questions within certain circles.

Since when was Free Speech a privilege you could lose in America while helping vets?

Concerned disabled veterans immediately took to Twitter using #FreeMerri. The Facebook group Disabled Veterans – Chapter 31 Voc Rehab now speaks out on social media against the unlawful treatment of Busch. How can VA fully restrict her both on and off duty under threat of punishment without fear of lawsuit?

What an ironic position? The group Busch sought to help, disabled veterans, is the same group that fought to protect our right to Free Speech for Americans. Guess what. We won and we continue to win. Meanwhile VA managers in VR&E Service seek to restrict her speech to prevent her from providing insight about vocational rehabilitation, a concept VA has no ownership over no more than owning health care. It is no different than prohibiting doctors from talking about health care with sick people while not at work.

This policy move is absurd, but there is more to the story about VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E).

ANTI-FREE SPEECH ORDER BACKGROUND

On Facebook, Busch repeatedly disclaimed her activity. Busch repeatedly indicated she was there as a private citizen with specialized knowledge on the subject of vocational rehab. This is no different than a doctor talking to sick people about the flu on Facebook. VA managers apparently did not care about her right to communicate with people wondering about vocational rehabilitation and banned her off-duty activities citing inapplicable internal rules they believe revoke her right to Free Speech as an American citizen.

Merri Busch Public Disclaimer on Facebook

SEE: Merri Busch Private Citizen Facebook Disclaimer

The unconstitutional order to cease and desist followed a request to Under Secretary Allison Hickey to provide an official liaison to the Facebook group Disabled Veterans – Chapter 31 Voc Rehab. The Facebook group focuses on helping veterans navigate the minefield of VR&E.

SEE: Emails to Under Secretary Allison Hickey

Following the request to Under Secretary Hickey, Robin Cooper of VA Public Affairs signed onto the group claiming she was just there to help veterans. According to group admin Ramona Alys, Cooper never commented on a post nor liked any comments.

UNCONSTITUTIONAL DEMAND FROM VR&E SERVICE

Weeks later, senior managers at VR&E Service, the department in charge of VR&E, chastised Busch and forbid her from interacting with any veterans Friday the walls of the Detroit Regional Office.

Merri Busch

How is that for transparency and helping veterans? Why are pro-veteran VA employees restricted in helping veterans while off-duty, while callous and careless VA employees can harm vets with no ramifications?

VETERANS AFFAIR SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY

VA policy shows a contradictory position stating VA employees are “highly encouraged” to use social media tools like Facebook to increase information sharing, “within and outside of VA.”

Former VA CIO Roger Baker passed VA Directive 6515 Use of Web-Based Collaboration Technologies to facilitate greater agency openness and communication with the Americans.

VA Directive 6515 continues,

“To increase accountability, promote information participation by the pubic, and create economic opportunity, the presumption shall be in favor of openness.”

In particular, the policy even delineates between public and private use of social media websites like Facebook:

“VA personnel represent a rich source of information for Veterans. As such, VA employees are encouraged to interact with the public online as long as that interaction does not interfere with the employee’s performance of his or her official duties. However, such activity comes with responsibility. When interacting with the public online, VA employees must draw a clear distinction between their personal views and their professional duties. Employees who are not officially authorized to speak on behalf of VA must never state or infer their communications represent VA’s official position. Similarly, employees should discourage Veterans and associated participants from seeking official VA determinations or adjudications via social media. In these cases, employees must be clear that these requests must be submitted through the designated official channels to ensure proper protection of personal information and for an official response to be provided.”

It further prohibits spying, such as that apparently conducted by VA public affairs specialist Robin Cooper, on such groups while individuals exercise their First Amendment rights unless expressly authorized by statue:

“Social media websites must not be used to monitor an individual’s exercise of his or her First Amendment rights unless expressly authorized by statute or by the individual about whom the record is maintained or unless pertinent to, and within the scope of, an authorized law enforcement activity.”

VOC REHAB FACEBOOK GROUP

Members of the group, Disabled Veterans – Chapter 31 Voc Rehab, joined together in outcry over the unlawful and unconstitutional restrictions placed onto Merri. They wrote letters to numerous VA executives like Under Secretary Allison Hickey.

Admin Ramona Alys was shocked at the prohibition, “Merri Busch should be encouraged and applauded.” Alys continued, “Instead, her basid rights are being silenced for fear of termination if she continues to observe her basic rights to speak her mind and help vets. It is shameful.”

SEE: Voc Rehab Group Members Speak Out

What do you think can be done to push back against VR&E Service? Are you outraged VR&E would silence to pro-veteran vocational counselor? Do you think VR&E Service is imprisoning counselor Merri Busch and limiting her Free Speech by preventing her from speaking with veterans outside the walls of Detroit Regional Office?

We as veterans need to stand strong and support our advocates within VA who are willing enough to stand up for us and brave enough to become whistleblowers when VA breaks the law to silence helpful souls.

Support Merri Busch. Tweet #FreeMerri right now and tell the world why this matters. If Merri is silenced, how far will the administration push the line on Free Speech?

namnibor
This makes no logical nor legal sense at all!!! It’s almost like the VA gloats and basks in direly negative public relations with their repeated ongoing scandals but will quickly slam anything that’s *actually helping* Veterans with highly questionable interpretations of their own Regulations and stretches those to point of distortion and lies…it’s like we are dealing with a huge organization in it’s “Terrible Twos”. Ben, I told you that there’s even some VA Psych’s that interpret wrongly if a… Read more »
DeepBlueC
There is a method to the madness. Wittingly or unwittingly, the VA has become a willing participant in its own demise. All these scandals have been a fact of life with VA and veterans for many decades and for the most part the VA has been able to escape accountability and punishment. Now, like on cue, a new scandal gets plastered in the news almost on a daily basis. So what’s the end goal? The VA is a very big… Read more »
Lee Horowitz
Allow all veterans a true choice and give them choices of top of the line insurance plans with no deductibles and they can choose what doctors they want to go to and what hospitals, etc plus there would be much more coverage like laser treatment surgery for knees or prostate, etc and a clear choose of better medications and all medications for treatment rather then the few and old medications in the VA pharmacy. The cost is minimal see veterans… Read more »
Lee Horowitz
This does not surprise our group at all !! The VA has been spying on Ben’s website as well as others for years illegally . In fact we had layers withdraw from civil rights VA lawsuits over threats to the licensing and livelihood of those lawyers by federal agents. Do not be surprised that the VA along with federal agents are not spying on this blog and other veterans blogs on a daily basis as well as illegal wiretaps and… Read more »
Don Karg
04/22/2015 Lee Horowitz, M.Ed,CAGS US Navy- Disabled Vietnam Era Veteran Veterans Advocate/Civil Rights Advocate [email protected] Dear Lee, The Criminals are watching you. Well, is it not time to watch the criminals? Make the VA use the cash properly, make the VA do their job, and put management into the VA—not a PR specialist selling a brand; and before too long the VA will come out of its “5 Alarm Fire” that Congress and the Senate let burn for a year.… Read more »
Kurt Priessman, MSgt, USAF (Ret)
Kurt Priessman, MSgt, USAF (Ret)

How about a quick and easy fix? End the VA, most of it’s programs can be assimilated into others. As for the illegalities of VA policies and the continuing war on veterans, it would be sensational if these morons were prosecuted and imprisoned. It would only take a few, the thieves would scatter and run.

Dan F

The VA makes decisions everyday which affect some vet’s 2nd Amendment rights and 4th Amendment rights. What makes anyone think they wouldn’t also go after 1st Amendment rights? By the way, this is not just the VA – government overreach against citizens rights have skyrocketed in recent years. Abolish the VA – today!

MSG JimC, US Army (Ret.)
MSG JimC, US Army (Ret.)
Of course, Ben is correct. Get this article out to everyone you know. I have personal experience in the VA with a unique perspective as a retired Army soldier and retired VA therapist. The internal VA culture is very regimented; Free speech is not in any job description. I urge you to read the Voc Rehab topics Ben has posted to this site as they are spot-on. I suggest everyone go to ecfr.gov and learn to do searches by using… Read more »
DT
In my humble opinion… The VRE Division as a WHOLE, needs to be: 1 – REORGANIZED (top-to-bottom, every one, everywhere, no exceptions 2 – STREAMLINED (qualitative & quantitative audit {practices & processes} 3 – MODERNIZED (“hand-in-glove” to employment metrics of the 21st Century job market). (RE: Definition of Business Process Re-engineering Link – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_process_reengineering) . How do we – as Veterans – PROFIT from a VRE “re-org”? Once the Secretary GETS..RID..of the “Regime” at VRE..(culture, mindset, people, process), and MODERNIZE… Read more »
91Veteran
This is ludicrous and a clear violation of her rights. She clearly stated in her posts that her postings do not represent the official position of the VA. Any federal employee can comment on activities of the organization they work for, they just cannot use their logo or claim to be officially representing the agency. That’s like telling EPA employees they can never comment about pollution, or like telling Treasury employees that can’t talk about money, or like telling National… Read more »
91Veteran

Wouldn’t it be nice if the VA put half as much effort into helping vets as they do in stomping their own employees or firing whistleblowers? How is it VA management can move so fast to do that, while ignoring veterans claims taking months, or waits to get care take months?

Daniel Cardenas

Hey Benjamin, I’d like to write to Merri’s Congressional representatives. Would you help with drafting a letter? I think if we could get a lot of vets sending their comments, maybe something could be done.

namnibor
@Daniel- You can also just copy and paste from this site as well as any articles linked to it, just be sure to place proper quotes around that which you have copied/pasted, and simply type where the source of your quotes came from. In case you do not know, just highlight any text, then right click, click COPY, then when you are ready to insert that text into a document, click your mouse cursor in place you want it placed,… Read more »
namnibor
Perhaps a little off-topic but think it’s important: Do you fellow Veterans realize that “Concerned Veterans for America” (CVA) is a wholly owned entity of Charles and David Koch, just like the TEA party movement? (The Koch Brothers) Be **very wary** of that organization because I received a solicited call so I took opportunity to pry for more info on their hell-bent sole agenda of “Privatizing The VA”, but when I asked this person on phone this, “…why not push… Read more »
Steven Davenport
I think you are right. People don’t remember what the Veterans Administration canteen was like before civilians took it over. In fact a lot of people don’t even know that the veterans canteen service is run and owned by civilian corporation in St. Louis I think around late 60s early 70s the Veterans Administration was trying to find a way to run the canteen service and make it self-sufficient in walks this corporation, and the rest is history. Now you… Read more »
spg

namnibor…. THANK YOU FOR TELLING THE TRUTH AND/OR POINTING OUT THE TRUTH, freakin finally!!!!!!!!!! VA should be run by american vets working for VA, not people working for private companies who have been contracted and very well compensated to apply corporate apathy to veterans care. Stop the contracts! Bring VA back to America! THANK YOU!

dee
It’s the entire government. Crooked to the bone. About anything that threatens their control of it’s people. The countries and the corporations that run the U.S. nowdays (bought us) want to make sure they retain complete power and control of the entire U.S. population – real tight-like. This is not the same U.S. the country’s founders had in mind and designed so carefully. It has grown that way since the years between WWI & WWII, and is getting more and… Read more »
Privatize VA

I am certain the VA monitors this site. I would say that is part of the reason why my claim is now 4 years old. I am for privatizing the whole damn thing.

namnibor

I hope you are not disillusioned by thinking things would be more streamlined if the VA were to be privatized…privatizing would actually mean even more outright claims denied because that’s what big insurance is really great at…deny. any given Private company would still have to have access to ALL your military records and somehow see this as an even longer dirt road filled with potholes if it were go that way.

Do not drink the Kool Aid.

Lee Horowitz
So you would rather still change the VA despite people trying to do so for 50+ years Nothing will ever change as the dead wood and worms are and will be entrenched in it. Would you not agree to allow veterans to receive a top of the line insurance card so that they can go to any private provider on the outside and those who want to go to the VA can go and have a choice to do so??… Read more »
PO combs

I have never in my 60 years of life seen my government go after vet’s like they are now!!!!!

gary owen faas
Several years back here in Albuquerque a story ran in the Albuquerque Journal about the “Ethics Institute” at the University of New Mexico. They requested any patients affected by poor medical treatment or abuse to contact the Institute. The article carried their phone number so I contacted them and spoke to the Doctor who ran it. I’ve still have her name and the article. I contacted them about torture and abuse at the Albuquerque VA Hospital along with the refusal… Read more »
Jim1993

Namnibor (above) said, “…Better yet, how about going straight to Secretary McDonald and cc the President of The United States?…” I have tried that to no avail. Secretary does not acknowledge my two letters sent within a month apart. The Pres has never acknowledged any of my letters since taking office. What is the secret to getting letters through?

James

Make all VA employees join the military.no training and off to the middle east.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. They can tell all Isis if you don’t stop.your going to be reported disruptive.

They would all die from laughter and then heads would really roll.

LAURA MARTINEZ

I was also denied FREEDOM of SPEECH & FREDOM of the PRESS when my late husband passed away from the local FEDERAL AGENCY NEGLIGENCE! NO JUSTICE – NO PEACE!
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