A Veterans Affairs Department whistleblower reportedly mocked by a colleague who dressed up as him for Halloween at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix said a photograph he was shown of the incident makes it clear the lampooning was acceptable to higher-ups. "I'm embarrassed that this behavior is acceptable at the [Phoenix VA]," Brandon Coleman told Military.com on Thursday. And accepted not only by Jeremy Pottle, a VA social worker now under investigation for wearing the costume, Coleman said, "but by every supervisor that saw him dressed as me that day." A photograph provided to Military.com that has been seen by Coleman shows a group shot of costumed Phoenix VA employees looking into the camera, with Pottle -- second from the left -- wearing an orange-colored wig, glasses and a pillow stuffed under his shirt to look heavy. "It saddens me that the only one who appears stunned in the picture is Santa Claus," Coleman said. He didn't know who the individual was.
Pottle currently is on administrative leave while VA officials investigate the incident, Phoenix VA spokeswoman Jean Schaeffer said on Thursday. She said officials hope to wrap up the investigation "expeditiously." Military.com was unable to reach Pottle. Coleman is a former Marine and an addictions specialist at the Phoenix facility, where he was suspended previously after informing higher-ups that VA officials and staff were putting suicidal veterans at risk through neglect and poor treatment. He was one of several whistleblowers invited to testify before Congress in September, when the group talked about the continued harassment that whistleblowers face even as the VA pledges to protect them. Coleman was not at the hospital when employees showed up in costume for Halloween, but in a letter he emailed to VA Secretary Bob McDonald he offered the description provided to him by a sympathetic co-worker. "Mr. Pottle wore blonde hair with a long blonde ponytail. Jeremy also had a fake blondish colored beard. He wore a shirt with the sleeves cut off along with fake tattoos on both arms," Coleman wrote. "[He] also used a cane and had a pillow or something under his shirt to represent an oversized beer belly." He told McDonald that photos were taken and then circulated among staff via email. "I walk with a cane because I blew out my right foot while on active duty" in the Marine Corps, Coleman told McDonald. "I have had 9 surgeries total to my right foot and 6 of those have taken place at the Phoenix VA hospital. Why would Mr. Pottle make fun of me for being injured while on active duty and trying to get care for my injuries at the Phoenix VA hospital as a disabled veteran?" --Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.