By Tom Reardon / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Pinal County, AZ) Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) whistleblower Paula Pedene will sign copies of her book, A Sacred Duty, at the American Legion Hall in Scottsdale, Arizona, on June 28, 2022, at 4:30 p.m.
Pedene worked for the VA after serving in the United States Navy on two separate occasions as a distinguished Public Affairs Officer, primarily in the Phoenix area at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System (formerly the Carl T. Hayden VA Hospital).
As her book details, Pedene stepped forward on two separate occasions to voice concern about wrongdoing by hospital administration, the second of which came to light in 2014 exposing egregiously falsified patient wait times for doctor’s appointments that were linked to over forty deaths. A Sacred Duty, though, is much more than a tale of Pedene’s heroism.
Pedene’s book is primarily about how she survived an almost two-year-long attack by VA officials for standing up for what was best for patients and employees of the VA. To this day, Pedene struggles to understand why hospital officials singled her out and worse, why many of her fellow colleagues and former friends fell in line with the harassment she experienced.
“Why do you pick on someone that is a disabled veteran (Pedene is legally blind and has been impacted by Retinitis Pigmentosa since the early 1980s. The condition causes pigment to form on the retina) has done a phenomenal job for your facility, has a gazillion awards, and is loved by staff and veterans service organizations in the community? I still do not know. The only thing I can think of is I had to disclose mismanagement of funds and some of the crud our former leaders were doing. They started making life miserable for me,” says Pedene over the phone.
In her writing, Pedene recounts how new hospital administration removed her from her public affairs job by levying multiple baseless allegations against her during 2012, 2013, and 2014. Ironically, this included putting her through a completely unnecessary and fiscally wasteful internal hearing when administration had zero evidence of any actual wrongdoing on Pedene’s part.
While some people would have succumbed to this pressure to leave, Pedene was not in a position to let her bullies win.
“At the time they started their shenanigans, I was 54 years old. I really needed to be 56 in order to get a full retirement. I was not interested in throwing away the thirty-plus years I had already given between the VA and the Navy to step out of that realm and do something else,” says Pedene.
In A Sacred Duty, Pedene also discusses the unwavering support she received from her husband, Bill, her sons, Robert and Steven, and her employee representative, Roger French.
“Roger just kept saying, ‘Hang in there.’ He is the one who really pushed me all the way through and kept me going. He just kept saying, ‘Paula, I know it’s miserable for you. I know it is hard, but I am telling you, they are not to win. If you falter and don’t stand up to them, they are going to come after other people,’” recalls Pedene.
Even though her experience with the VA for multiple years took an emotional and financial toll, Pedene still has many positive things to say about her former employer and current health care provider.
“I do think there a couple of things that (the VA) is just the best at. I am a visually impaired veteran, and I’m telling you the visual impairment service team at the Phoenix VA has to be one of the top in the country. They check everything, the ask you how you are doing, and they really, really care. Results show that VA mental health care if very successful if patients adhere and comply. It is a constant struggle for many of our veterans, but when they get in there and find their niche, it can really help them get the help they need,” says Pedene.
In looking back, Pedene says her biggest regret was not getting her job back, but after her ordeal was finished, she did end up getting a promotion and was back doing public affairs work at a much higher level on a national stage before her retirement in 2020. Currently, she stays busy with promoting her book and working as executive director for Honoring America’s Veterans, which is a non-profit organization that promotes and produces the Phoenix Veteran’s Day Parade.
“Talk about a beautiful, healing event. If you haven’t been here in Phoenix (for the parade), it is a great thing to go to. It’s one of the highlights, I think, that our veterans get every year. It’s amazing how much a ‘thank you’ and a ‘welcome home’ truly means to our veterans,” says Pedene.
A Sacred Duty is truly a compelling, well-written read, and a must for anyone in learning about how to not only stand up for yourself, but how to stand up for others as well. If you are interested in attending Pedene’s book signing event, please click here.