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VA harassment victims share their stories

"They protect one person over the other, and they use these threats that if you don't follow what they want you to say, you're no longer useful to them," Dr. Gwendolyn Cole said. "So your number is up, and they're going to get rid of you."

BATAVIA, N.Y. – Since Channel 2's report Friday that the Buffalo VA is investigating one of its key leaders, multiple people have reached out to our Erica Brecher with their own stories of harassment while working at the VA.

In Friday's report, 2 On Your Side reported that Royce Calhoun, the VA's number two person in charge, has been reassigned from his leadership position amid an investigation, according to three independent sources close to the VA Western New York Healthcare System.

Calhoun, who had been serving as associate medical director of the facility since August 2016, was apparently reassigned to something called “special projects.”

On Sunday, three women shared their stories.

“Royce Calhoun...I got called into the office, and he had me sign a piece of paper for my termination, which I signed under duress. And there was an upper management person hiding behind the door,” Bonnie Piasecki said.

That's how Piasecki says her six-year employment at the Batavia VA came to an end.

After months of dealing with a colleague who would show her pictures of his genitals on his phone, Piasecki's supervisor encouraged her and another employee to write up a report. Her write-up of the alleged harasser turned into a hearing she lost.

“[It was] heartbreaking. Degrading. You name it,” Piasecki said.

At the hearing, Piasecki felt the harassing colleague was protected, and that the protection was enabled by and known by Royce Calhoun.

Dr. Gwendolyn Cole was asked to testify in Bonnie's case, and she says a psychologist on the hearing board suggested she lie in court.

“This actually happened. A police officer took me outside, and I explained to him I will not lie under oath for anyone, and certainly not the administration at the VA,” Dr. Cole said.

Dr. Cole said she felt management's priority was protecting one another, and not the patient's care.

“I want the people who work at the VA, who put their heart and soul, to be all protected. They shouldn't have to go into work and be harassed, picked on,” Piasecki said.

Piasecki called Channel 2 after out report Friday that the VA was investigating allegations of harassment by associate medical director Royce Calhoun.

“Expected,” Piasecki said. “I'm sure more is going to come out, and it's about time.”

Calhoun, who was promoted to the Buffalo associate medical director position in 2016, spent most of his 20-year career at the Batavia site, where veteran Yvette Williams also once works.

“I want the VA to be held accountable for their actions,” Williams said.

Williams says she had a supervisor who was inappropriate with her and another work leader. She says the colleague did things like pull his pants down, or lift his shirt up.

“And told Royce what was going on, and he gave us the impression he was going to do something about it, so we left his office,” Williams said.

But she says Calhoun did not do something about it. When nothing changed, Williams says she went back to Calhoun's office three months later.

“For some reason, at the end of the conversation, Royce Calhoun told both me and the other work leader that we 'can't bring down anybody higher than us.' And we just looked at each other and got up, and we left, and when we got out into the hallway, we were like, 'What does that mean?'” Williams said.

Following the investigation into her allegations, Williams was fired for computer abuse for logging too many hours on a computer that was in a VA police station she didn't even have access to.

“We thought in our hearts we were whistleblowing, but Royce never told anybody that we went to him. He wasn't going to do anything to my supervisor,” Williams said. “All I ever heard was, 'It's the good old boys club, and it's never going to change.'”

“They protect one person over the other, and they use these threats that if you don't follow what they want you to say, you're no longer useful to them,” Dr. Cole said. “So your number is up, and they're going to get rid of you.”

The VA's spokesperson acknowledged receipt of our voicemail requesting comment and that request has been passed along to the appropriate person.