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?

27 COMMENTS

  1. 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 Veteran with Chronic Anxiety and PTSD are using Facebook it’s wrongly interpreted by some VA Psych Dr.’s that the given Veteran does not really have PTSD and try to call it an “Adjustment Disorder” instead, which can mean someone having their Disability Rating decimated or eliminated like my now-deceased fellow Veteran buddy that this indeed happened to. He sadly lost all hope after his rating disaster, started using drugs again and overdosed…within a few months of the madness he was placed through…so based on that, it’s one of the many reasons I will not even use Facebook or such social media even though I use civilian medical Dr.’s/Medicare…just do not trust the VA’s correct interpretation of their own Regulations.

    This is a Constitutional slippery slope the VA is taking here and again, it makes absolutely no sense nor is it legal.

    Maybe someone could bother Attorney General Holder on the golf course and see what he has to say about this. Better yet, how about going straight to Secretary McDonald and cc the President of The United States?

    I think the VA is ***testing the waters***, if they are willing to do this to their own employees, what length and measures will they go to with we “lowly Veterans”? Great reporting Ben.

    • 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 government agency – in terms of its budget, second only to the DoD. There’s a lot of easy money to be made. If I own a large corporation, why should I depend on the bumbling idiots in the VA to hand me my little piece of the pie? Why don’t I run it myself and get the whole pie? So my fellow veterans and taxpayers, these scandals that you are now just coming to are happening to create the outrage and the pain to condition your minds to accept the change that will surely follow and that is to privatize the VA. Will it be better for us to have a VA Corporation? I for one do not believe it. Just look at those privatized prisons sprouting up all over America. Google Rachel Maddow Show of 04/15/15 VA Privatization. She explains it better than I can.

      So folks, how does CEO MacDonald sound to you?

      • 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 against the VA website, our brothers, at a cost of 60 billion for this !! Veterans just wanting VA care they have that choice . Turn the VA vacant facilities into more nursing homes for vets in which now the VA is paying many nursing homes for due to lack of beds or turn the vacant VA space into transitional living facilities to transition vets from VA hospitals and nursing homes (limited numbers) or also use the vacant Va facilities for homeless veterans Allow dental, audiology and minor services. What about VA employees?? If they are truely competent they will all pick up jobs just like anyone else in the private medical health care sector due to veterans entering such marketplace on insurance plans.

        Traditional veterans groups ( except Veteran groups like ourselves Veterans for Independence, Veterans Against the VA, Concerned veterans of America, etc) and the VA and government officials all want to perpetuate the good old boy system If you cant fix it in 75 years then when will it ever be fixed??Traditional veterans groups are in the pockets of theVA financially and every time they do a disability claim they get paid plus they get new lifetime members or members, etc . The facts are VVA, DAV, EPVA , VFW, AL, etc etc would suffer huge losses of money and membership if veterans were allowed to seek pure private care It is no wonder that their executives earn 6 plus figure salaries and dont want to loose that and the benefits plus all their lobbyists getting paid big bucks as well .

        It is exactly why the choice program has all the strings and requirements it does as both the VA, and traditional veterans groups to keep their power and funding threw to those vets wanting such private care a taste of basically nothing. The facts are they the traditional veterans groups along with the VA and congress will never ever support privatization separate of the VA . See their legislative platforms and agenda It will take mass marches and demonstrations, sit ins and getting rid of those who support the VA by “changing it” It cant be changed thats fact !!

        Lee Horowitz M.Ed, CAGS
        US Navy, Disabled Vietnam Era Veteran
        Veterans Advocate- Veterans/Disability Civil Rights Advocate
        [email protected]

  2. 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 other intelligence gatherings . This can and does affect veterans civil rights The VA’s reach and government is much further then what you think . Ben’s blog is monitored and there are VA/governmental spies who monitor such and gather information for the VA/government. The VA and government allow no civil rights. The only thing one can do is expose them via media and congressional or senatorial investigation or the press or via taking them to court if one has the money to do so.

    Lee Horowitz, M.Ed,CAGS
    US Navy- Disabled Vietnam Era Veteran
    Veterans Advocate/Civil Rights Advocate
    [email protected]

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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 key words to find answers in the law.

  6. 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 that Division to REAL WORLD metrics, a VETERAN will no longer have to “conform” to a
    VRC “having a bad day”, or shady VREO’s delaying the process.

    When you have VRE personnel willfully making false and misleading statements to Members of Congress, this is a “line that has been breached”, and THEY need to be PUSHED…BACK….HARD!

    “When darkness overtakes the godly,light will come bursting in…The wicked will be infuriated when they see this(and) they will grind their teeth in anger (and) slink away, their hopes (to overtake you) thwarted’…(Psalm 112:4-10)

  7. 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 Weather Service employees they can’t talk about a storm. Many federal agencies are on Facebook. You can bet many federal employees also post comments on what they do. They just cannot represent their comment as the official position of the agency.
    Veterans in that group should hoist the VA on their own petard. Post requests for help in both groups, and see how long it takes the VA to provide help as they claim they will do. I would suggest screenshots of any comment posted so the VA cannot get away with deleting them.
    Once again, a good opportunity for a FOIA. Request their social media policy, how it pertains to employees, and specifically the complaint filed against her. Then ask for why the PR hack was assigned to the group, yet did nothing but monitor it.

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

    • @Daniel. Great idea. I’m a bit slammed to help write your letter. But you can pluck the data right from this article and send it to them if you like. That will keep your process short and sweet.

      • I’ve written a first draft. It’s kinda lengthy – maybe a bit too much to post as a comment here. Can I email it to you for your input? Or maybe add it as a post to the FB group?

    • @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, then hit and hold Control while tapping the ‘V’ key and that will paste your copied text.
      Hope this helps and I only posted these instructions in event you did not know those easy short-cuts. (while in college I tutored others in writing)

  10. 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 for the improvement of the existing VA by holding them to their own regulations…?”, I was countered with, “Well, that’s what all those OTHER so-called Veteran Advocacy Groups WANT you to believe they are for!” I replied, “That was not an answer, it was a highly defensive statement. Who exactly supports the Concerned Veterans for America if according to you (the caller), CVA does not receive VA Monies?” He then tried to sway the subject by stating CVA is headed by an Iraq War Veteran and told/asked me, “You do not think another Veteran would EVER screw-over another Veteran, so you?”
    I then asked who exactly funds CVA then?! I told him that in a very quick search of multiple sources, it shows that CVA is funded and was CREATED by none other than the Koch Brothers and I told this solicited caller that,”… I do not think Koch Brothers have MY AMERICA in their best interests…only their own and what have you to say about that?”
    Here’s the paraphrased response: “Its spokesman, Pete Hegseth, is an Iraq war vet and Republican who ran for a U.S. Senate in 2012.” When asked why he won’t admit to being affiliated w/ the Koch brothers, He said, “(T)hat’s protected speech, the CVA won’t reveal it’s donor information either.”

    So I then asked, “Why the hell are you calling me?” He said, “Well, you are a Veteran and CVA is reaching out….blah, blah…”! So as SOON as I politely countered with, “No, The Koch Brothers are simply trying to pool Veteran VOTES and MY VOTE can NOT be bought!”
    The CVA rep. then abruptly hung-up. The call came from an unidentified number as I do have caller ID on my landline phone.
    Warning to Veterans: be very wary! As bad as the VAMC’s experience can be, I believe through activism we have a better chance at reforming the whole VA, NOT by those that would wish to milk the cash cow through Privatization.

    On topic now: I think this attempt to quash the voices of VA Employees on Social Media is just the START of things ramping-up for the 2016 Election. It’s the VA’s back-assward attempt at “future damage control”, but in the way ONLY the VA can do it’s very best, instead, it’s cutting at the very CORE of FREE SPEECH…we must fight!

    Beware of Concerned Veterans for America….they really are wolves in sheep’s clothing and I wonder if their “token Veteran that heads CVA, Iraq War Veteran Pete Hegseth even realizes he is being used against his fellow Veterans?

    Please investigate, Ben. The ONLY $$ I will be placing MY support for in these elections is Ben’s Blog here, so he can continue to lead the good fight that’s honorable without some NeoCON agenda! Join me…errr, Ben!

    • 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 may think that’s not a big thing but up until that point the Veterans Administration was not affected by speech restrictions and a number of other things that we now face in the Veterans Administration. And it came from private entities they got their hands into the Veterans Administration and are now trying to take the whole thing over the way to a man’s body is through his stomach the VA has never been the same. They are like a virus and the sick thing is no one even notice that the VA is sick.

    • 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!

  11. 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 more nasty at a quicker rate than ever. They have stripped everyones rights away and it will take a massive, massive strict effort to try to get them back now. Everyone has to wake up to this reality. I don’t think the people in this country really understand this fact and I don’t believe younger citizens even understand what this country should be like by now. They are confused and worship the iphone. Goodbye America.

  12. 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.

  13. 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 of the “Ethics Committee” located at the VA. The VA acknowledged what happened to me, I FOIA’d them, so the torture that happened was that I had been in a “simple shoulder” surgery for over 9 hours. I was cut open in 8 in separate places on my chest and back as well as an opening 7″ long across the top of the right shoulder. It turned out they performed two different types of surgery in the 9 hours. When I was taken to Post Op for recovery I had no idea how much damage I went through due to the misdiagnosed dislocation. The 3 Nurses and a nurse’s aid refused to treat my multiple pains, kept part of my Trazodone, installed a bent IV tube so no fluid flowed all night. Since they claimed they put the pain med in the IV bag it was impossible to get any medication. The other Patient in our room was a Vietnam Vet, a Marine, and witnessed the entire night’s problems. He watched as the nurse’s aid punched me in the right shoulder where I had 9 hours of surgery, and he said “Attaboy” to me. My arm was supposed to be in a sling across my chest in an abductor brace that should hold the arm up and not hanging down at my waist. The Nurses refused to put it on correctly even as I checked out the next morning, although the support strap was rubber banded together hanging behind my back. The punch in the shoulder ripped some stitches loose on the outside of my body and I don’t know what tore loose inside my body. They left the blood soaked bandages on me for over two weeks without checking for infection of the stitches or the fact they were ripped loose. The VA then demanded $2,500.00 for what they claim is “excellent care”. I asked for an “Ethics Committee” meeting at the VA and 4 of them decided to lie and say they were the Committee. I had hired a Court stenographer so I have all of their testimony. They stalled for a few months and did nothing. I complained and requested a Board of Investigation, which they again faked it too, and they repeatedly committed Perjury while refusing to deal with my being tortured for around 15 hours of Post Op. They refused a Refund for failing to honor the contract I signed with them prior to surgery which clearly states that all followup problems if caused by them would be cared for. I’v a stack of Sworn Oath Testimony given by VA employees but none of the ones who actually tortured me as a Patient in their care. The VA has refused to let me to see their Testimony about their abuse of me even though it is subject to the FOIA. When I did contact the UNM Ethics Institute they called the VA, and a VA psychiatrist called me and told me she was the head of the Institute at UNM. She lied about that even though she was well informed about why I went outside of the VA’s control. I know I have a First Amendment Right to go outside the VA and speak my mind. It was a week later the Director of the VA wrote me a letter threatening me with Arrest for ‘contacting’ of her employees. I had not spoken to anyone at the VA since I was told the Doctor I spoke to was not a VA employee but she was a UNM Professor with the Institute. My right to speak freely about VA abuse and Torture of a Veteran with PTSD, Brain injury, and multiple surgeries was Denied by this VA snooping into my going outside for my support by Professionals. They did fire the Director who was in charge when the torturous surgery episode happened. They then fired the Patient Advocate who helped stage the first phony Ethics meeting, they also Fired the FOIA Officer for staging the phony Board and denying me FOIAs while harassing me. The Patient Advocate had called me one time to say he had more time stateside in the National Guard’s chow line than I had in Vietnam. I was in Vietnam for over 3 years, and have little sisters with more time in Vietnam than “Dwight” the REMF Patient Advocate. “Dwight” never went to War or even overseas doing his two weeks in the summer, with a weekend a month, before he injured himself in the chow line.

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

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