I had the opportunity to serve as a legal extern with the US Department of Veterans Affairs in their Atlanta, Georgia Regional Counsel office. I encountered many areas of law ranging from employment law, regulatory and tort actions including medical malpractice and premises liability. I researched many federal and state regulations including FOIA, EEO, FTCA, HIPAA, Fair Debt Collection Act and the Guardianship Act. I primarily worked on employment issues, discrimination claims and merits systems protection board claims. With this task, I conducted research, drafted prehearing reports and motions for summary judgment and participated in discovery and depositions. Many of theses disputes were effectively handled by mediation, a skill I have learned while pursuing the ADR certificate. However, administrative law judges resolve a majority of cases received by this office. I also had the opportunity to participate in many other training and agency wide events including a state senate field hearing. The two main events I participated in include:
(1) Field Hearing – The agency has been receiving unfavorable media attention regarding their mental health practices. The Atlanta VA Medical Center treats more than 87,000 war veterans, many who suffer from post deployment mental health issues. Unfortunately, the local VA had been on the news on three separate occasions involving suicides taking place on their property. This news caused uproar amongst veterans, their families and others in the community. In response, Georgia Senator John Isakson called the US Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs field hearing to discuss the alleged mismanagement and mental health programs at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. The field hearing seemed more like a panel where the Director of the Medical Center and the VA undersecretary of Health Report were asked questions by the Senator about their previous practices and what changes have been made to improve their mental health programs. Hundreds of veterans attended the hearing and a few took the stand to criticize the VA’s failure to administer adequate care to veterans. Their input helped reshape the mental health programs at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.
(2) EEOC Training for Supervisors – The agency co-chaired a three-day panel that discussed ways to unravel discrimination in the federal workplace in order to minimize disputes. Supervisors and managers within the agency were in attendance of this panel and were able to discuss their experiences at the three-day event. This event was interesting because it was structured by the agency’s employment attorney’s perspective based on common issues they encounter in their caseload. I thought it was a very effective way to combat possible discrimination issues before they arise.
Both of these events have sparked my interest to continue working in the public sector. These experiences are both examples of how the federal government resolves conflicts and implements ways to prevent future conflicts from arising as seen in the three-day discrimination panel. Through this experience, I have learned that the most effective way to handle conflicts of this nature is to include citizen participation and develop problem-solving methods. This experience has furthered my understanding of this process and I hope to contribute my knowledge in the workplace.