Dan Martin — veteran of the United States Navy from 1985 to 1991, is an employee of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. After his service in the Navy, he attended Purdue and graduated with his degree in electrical engineering. From there, he went to Indiana Wesleyan for his MBA, where he also worked for the Indiana National Guard. It was then that he realized how much he had loved the military and the people in it, and like many veterans who choose to serve again in a new capacity, he applied for a position within the VA. Eventually he found an opening and was brought on-board. He worked alongside other VA employees to serve veterans in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.
Fast forward several years, and Martin has been shuffled into a corner office of the North Indiana VA where he is not allowed any responsibility. He can talk all he wants, though it is to no avail — they won’t fire him and they won’t allow him any level of responsibility. He could quit, but quitting would mean that his voice of dissent, though small in the massive bureaucracy that is the VA, would be snuffed out entirely. Martin says that he won’t allow that.
I recently spoke with Mr. Martin to get the whole story.
There was nothing wrong initially, when I first got to the Northern Indiana VA. I had to learn the ropes, get a feel for the lay of the land. I spent the first few months organizing and getting to know the people. I was the Chief Engineer, and we were in charge of a lot of contracts… but most of those contracts had been awarded before I even got there, so I had a lot of catching up to do. It was upwards of 8 million dollars for a bunch of projects — the water filtration system, patient interactive TV systems, patient elopement like door card readers and cameras — I had to get the lay of the land when I got there.”
Over the next few months, Martin began to see more contracts come in, and he said that he had no reason to believe that they were illegitimate. However, he began to have some questions regarding the installment of the water filtration system. There were things that just weren’t lining up or making sense.
Note: One tool for larger organizations to silence whistleblowers is to over-complicate and slow down processes using their convoluted bureaucracy, all sorts of various names and companies, and a thousand other details that serve to complicate things and mire the waters. Bear with us as these details flood the story as well.
At first I wasn’t sure if I was just missing something, so I started asking around. The technology basically says that you’ve got a stainless steel tube and water passes through it — in theory it ionizes the water, but it wasn’t making sense. An engineer under me tried to ask Neil Racky, a motivational speaker who also owns NLP Aqua and the guy who had won the contract to install these water filtration systems.
We dug a little deeper, and it felt like Angel Construction — the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business who was tasked with the actual installation of the filtration systems — was just shuffling papers. They weren’t really accomplishing anything. But that’s when I saw the first big red flag: they put a markup on the water filtration system and were focusing on just pushing it through.
The entire contract was set up as a ‘pass through.’ All the work was performed by NLP Aqua and their subcontractors. Every question we asked had to be answered by NLP Aqua.
The hairs stood up on the back of my neck — none of it felt right.”
As it turns out, Martin discovered that the certifying authority of the water filtration system wasn’t even out of the United States, rather, it was out of Australia. And upon further research, it turns out that NLP Aqua is not even on the list of approved Australian vendors.
Since no one was answering his questions adequately, and the filtration system didn’t seem to be working in the first place, he immediately put a stop-work order in. He was concerned that, even if the project had been legitimately contracted, the government would still be responsible for paying for this device that he wasn’t even sure worked properly. The contracting officer agreed, not to mention the fact that as Chief Engineer, Martin was well within his purview to stop the project in its tracks.
When I raised these concerns with my superiors, they made statements that possibly suggested to me that they might have personal stakes in the award to Angels Construction/NLP. So on January 12, 2016, Jim Cullum Jr. the facility manager told me that ‘Jay [Miller] and I have a lot of money riding on this project.’ I told Cullum about my concerns that the safety certifications were fraudulent, and that the NLP water filtration system not only did not meet the specifications called for in the Request for Proposal (RFP), but would waste the taxpayers’ money, and possibly, endanger the health and lives of VANIHCS (VA Northern Indiana Health Care System) patients and employees, Cullum responded, ‘Shipmate, I need you to do this.’
None of this made any sense to me that I was to personally oversee the installation of this oddball device, but also that there was nothing wrong with the water at the facility in the first place. Putting this is was liking putting a trap door on a canoe. Sure you can do it, but why? So I followed orders because I didn’t have enough evidence to sacrifice my career for at this point.”
Martin paused during the interview for a long moment before continuing.
But because I was being forced to do something that I was pretty sure was wrong, it got me looking at all these other contracts.”
Martin first met Samir Dharia on November 23, 2015 at the Main Street Bistro in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Chief of Biomedical for VANIHCS had invited Martin to join some of them out for scotch and cigars — to have a good time out and to discuss what’s going on at the VA. He was not given any specific details prior to the invitation, so when Dharia tried to pay for everything, he said it was another big red flag.
Note: Samir Dharia, according to Martin, is essentially the third party trying to win these bids with the VA. So these casual, social meetings between those who are hoping to win a government bid and those who are in charge of approving the bids — you can see how this is problematic, when you’re talking about taxpayer dollars. For example: there is a conflict of interest if your friends are the ones who happen to be winning all of these bids, when another vendor might be a better use of the taxpayers’ money, not to mention any markups the two could work out.
It struck Martin as a strange coincidence that Dharia was approaching him on these contracts, when they had just gone to dinner the night before (and almost had it all paid for).
I told him he has to bid on it. You can’t just approach me and ask if it’s alright if I sign off on something like that — it’s not my money we’re spending here, it’s the government’s money. It’s the taxpayer’s money. It’s the veteran’s money. I told him to talk to the contracting officer instead.”
When something needs to get done within a VA and it is determined that it is to be contracted out, they put together proposed bid documents and most importantly an estimated cost. This file includes all of the relevant data — specifications, physical requirements, scope of work — those sorts of things. All of it has to be approved by leadership, both fiscally and legally.
Martin found that this file was relatively empty, and that little to none of these requirements for several of these recently awarded projects had been satisfied. And yet the contract was awarded anyway.
I talked to our chief of logistics — who is also the accountability officer — and asked him how on earth did these contracts get awarded? He said, ‘I don’t know. We never signed off on it.’
Now, it sounds obvious that all these contracts are being awarded to the same guy… but it’s not that simple. They are being awarded to multiple companies that are connected to him. For example, GMC Tek prides itself on being a women’s owned business — that woman just happens to be his wife.
Because if someone is looking ‘from 30,000 feet’ and there’s a bunch of different companies being awarded a bunch of different contracts, everything looks to be above-board. But when you start digging, you realize that the same person is essentially winning all these contracts.”
Martin then decided to file an online complaint with the Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG says that this tool “receives, screens, and refers OIG mission-related complaints within VA.”
A couple of months later, Martin received a phone call from an agent within the OIG. He was able to discuss the situation in detail to the agent in charge of investigating his claims. As he spoke, the agent seemed to know a lot more of what was going on than Martin had realized.
[The Agent] couldn’t figure out how these contracts were getting awarded, though. So he asked if I could help him out, and I said yes.”
That’s when Martin began his work with the OIG, digging into all these other contracts. They started finding Dharia’s name behind a multitude of companies. Two more names seemed to be inextricably involved in multiple companies being awarded all these contracts. They were: Jay Miller and Dr. Himanshu Singh.
Miller is the Associate Director for the Northern Indiana Health Care System, and has worked within the VA for the past 25 years, and has worked in several VA locations.
Miller was a career VA guy — a lot of these guys are.”
Note: By “career VA guy,” Martin means someone whose goal is to be as financially successful as possible during their tenure in the VA.
Dr. Himanshu Singh was an Acting Director at the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System at the time.
Dharia, Miller and Singh were all over these things. Dharia was also constantly talking about going out with these guys — drinking, to strip clubs, smoking cigars together. That’s definitely not allowed between VA employees, especially when you’re directly involved with awarding the contracts.
Eventually, the assistant chief of human resources contacted me. She was leaving for another VA, and she told me that I needed to watch my back. ‘They’re trying to get you,’ she said. My relationship was getting strained with these guys, and though I don’t think they knew I was working with the OIG, they definitely knew I wasn’t playing their games.
They started asking me to do weird things. They wanted me to fire people who hadn’t done anything wrong, for example. I kept saying ‘no’ to all that, but they kept pushing.”
Martin was confident that they didn’t know of his OIG involvement — until September of 2016. Someone had mentioned that the VA was going to install that same NLP Aqua filtration system in the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw, MI. At the time, Dr. Singh was the acting director at that VA, and the contract for NLP aqua was subsequently awarded.
It was during this time that Martin thinks they discovered that he was working with the OIG.
Martin was beginning to be pushed out of any planning processes for future projects within the North Indiana VA. With Martin out of the way, these people were able to guide the system to profit themselves in whatever way they wished. They left him out of meetings, separated him from any strategic planning — all of which essentially pushed him out of his actual job. The job description on his VA bio was nothing more than words on a page at this point.
I was never disciplined, and I never had any punitive actions taken against me. My performance reports were all outstanding. I was just quietly getting pushed out of having any real responsibility.”
SOFREP obtained several of Martin’s performance reviews, all of which were checked “exceptional,” as opposed to “fully successful” and “unacceptable.” He had high marks and annotations implying both satisfaction with his job performance, as well as going above and beyond in certain areas.
This is on top of a personal recommendation, citing Martin’s expertise in an engineer capacity at the VA. The recommendation says that, “His working knowledge of managing healthcare facilities with the many complexities as Chief Engineer is top-notch,” and that, “Mr. Martin has demonstrated steady resolve and accountability along with self-motivated directions with a strong passion for the mission of the VA to do for those that have given the greatest sacrifice. Mr. Martin has a strong commitment to the public, especially with respect to Veteran organizations, where he volunteers time mentoring those that are struggling to adapt back to society from the war zone.”
Many of these positive reviews came from Jay Miller himself, prior to Dan Martin voicing his concerns about the bids and contracts.
Dharia had been out of the picture for a time, but in February of 2017, he started to return to these circles. Martin asked his OIG agent what exactly he ought to do, and the OIG had him wear a wire while meeting with Dharia. He was supposed to go with the biomed chief at the time, but at the last second she backed out.
While I was wearing the wire, I got Dharia saying all sorts of stuff. I gave it over to [the OIG agent], but I wasn’t sure what they were going to do with it.”
Martin could see what was happening — after the initial push for him to lose responsibility within the VA, there were clear efforts to also discredit him entirely.
All of a sudden, these statements start coming out. People said that I brought weapons in my car, that I was a bully. They said that I scared and intimidated people. Someone said that, ‘A year ago, Dan Martin had a conversation with me and said that if there was an active shooter, that he would handle it. That there was a weapon in his car, and that he would handle it–‘
No one had ever made these accusations before. Two people I had disciplined in the past were the ones who made these statements. They did a climate investigation, getting shared thoughts from the whole office. They interviewed 105 employees, and 40 of them showed up but they only used statements from four.
So I was accused, among other things, of having guns in my car. That is a crime. Just like on a military base, it’s a crime with the VA. But when they started getting into that with me, they realized that I got rid of all my weapons in 2000 when my son was 3 years old. The only piece of evidence they had was a statement made a week after they found out I didn’t own any weapons from a person who I stated wasn’t qualified to be an Emergency Manager, and the Deputy Chief of Police — who was recently disciplined for sexually harassing his secretary — apparently heard rumors that I had a suspected weapon in my car. There was nothing substantial. There rest were the four employees that I had disciplined in the past.
Oh, and whose name was on top of supervising the investigation? Jay Miller.”
It’s important to realize that, had these accusations been founded, Martin would face very serious legal repercussions. Bringing weapons to the VA is illegal and warrants serious punishment — and yet still nothing has come of it, as the allegations have largely been disregarded. Still, if these complaints were truly disregarded then what reason does the VA chain of command have for putting Martin aside, seizing him of his responsibilities? If there are no actual charges, and he has not been fired, then it stands to reason that Martin’s claims have weight. That he has been shut out in order to keep him from hindering upper echelon VA officials leveraging the system for their own profits.
This is when the Administrative Investigation Board (AIB) came into the picture. What is the AIB? Read the “Directive” file here to hear in their own words.
The AIB was on a fact-finding mission as to all the claims surrounding Mr. Martin. They were running with the same facts that had already been collected, and so Martin was already portrayed in a largely negative light from the onset of the investigation.
Martin made it clear to me that he felt the AIB was a sort of “Spanish Inquisition.” They gave him the illusion of a fair and impartial investigation, but were actually only concerned with supporting the existing, questionable testimonies and evidence. He claims that these AIB investigations often testify on behalf of witnesses, putting “words in their mouth, and if necessary, threatening and intimidating witnesses,” and that they practiced such behavior in the investigation with Martin.
In order to ensure a speedy guilty ruling, Northern Indiana VA handpicked three VA employees to participate in the AIB. Virginia Lyons, a senior level manager from the VA Central Western MA which is currently under federal investigation for substandard care, putting Veterans lives at ‘unnecessary risk,’ and whistleblower retaliation. Renee Kilbane, a senior level manager who direct reported to Michael Hershman, the Northern Indiana VA Medical Center Director. And David Alvarez, a VA engineer with strong ties to Singh, Jay Miller and Jim Cullum. There is also strong evidence to suggest he is connected to Dharia himself.
As we spoke, he went through and listed many other reasons why he felt these people were unqualified for the positions, be it existing investigations, suspicions of wrong-doing, or personal ties to the names in question — people who are directly profiting from the contracts that were being awarded.
The Whole AIB thing was ham-tagged. It was ridiculous. And all the while I’ve got tons of people saying good things in the investigation, but it’s all getting disregarded.
Anyway, by this time I had gone to the GAP attorneys.”
GAP (Government Accountability Project) is a non-profit dedicated to whistleblowers like Martin, hoping to support them in their efforts to illuminate wrongdoing in major government and corporate worlds. Read more about them here.
And that’s about where we’re at now. USA Today put out an article about me in January. For the most part I just have to sit here and as people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these investigations, in addition to paying me for sitting around doing nothing. I just show up like I’m supposed to.”
Martin then made sure to add,
Just so you know, I’m the worst person to bring this message. There are so many better people than me that should be the face of this, but here I am. The real heroes are the ones walking in the front door looking for the VA to be everything that was promised and the incredible employees that deliver that in spite of the failings of senior leadership.”
What does a “day in the life” look like for you these days?
When this first started on March 10, 2017, initially my days were filled with confusion. I thought this was crazy. There is no way leadership in Washington and the OIG would allow these bad actors to continue the corrupt the system and abuse their power. But then days turned into weeks. Weeks into months. From one season to the next. I tried to use this time as productively as I could. I enrolled in every class to better myself and volunteered for everything — including to help down in Puerto Rico.
However, they denied my requests. For over a year I just sit all day in a room doing nothing. After the NPR story came out in April, my supervisor I haven’t seen each other since early December did finally assign me some remedial Engineering work. However, I wasn’t allowed access to any of the applicable parts of the facility, current facility drawings, or personnel. I was given a task that in no way could be completed. After letting them know this, they went back to ignoring me.
Now I’m back to doing nothing, sweating in an office with no air conditioning that shares a wall with a next-door demolition project. Between the dust and noise, I do the best I can to not let another indignity get the best of me.”
Why don’t you just quit? Surely as an engineer you could get a job elsewhere.
Why don’t I quit? That’s a great question. I’ll admit that a week doesn’t go by and I don’t think about it. Honestly at first I didn’t think this could happen. Then I thought it won’t go on very long. I was wrong.
But I took an oath when I joined the military. I repeated the same oath when I joined the VA. There are a lot of hardworking and honest employees at the Northern Indiana VA and they have some of the best doctors and nurses in the world taking care of my fellow Veterans. They deserve better than to live in fear of doing the right thing. My brothers and sisters getting their care at the VA deserve better than to be second fiddle to corrupt leadership.
Recently, most of the front line folks around the hospital have starting stopping by to see me. Some are looking for advice on whether to contact that OIG about a patient safety issue, but most to root me on and let me know that they and others are inspired by those of us who spoke up.
Why don’t I quit? Because it isn’t about me. I can never wear the uniform of my country again; this is as close as it gets. No member of the military would leave their brothers or sisters on the battlefield and I’m not going to leave the people who work or get their care at the VA if there’s a chance I can make it better.”
What do you feel like you’re missing out on the most?
Sitting around, doing nothing all day — it kills me. I won’t quit, but I hate sitting around like this.
But worse than that: they refused to let me mentor with the minority program. I was extensively screened by the VA National Diversity Intern Program and approved as a mentor for a young minority student engineer (who ironically who grew up near the low-income neighborhood I did in Chicago). And I was prevented in summer of 2017 from assuming my role as a mentor for a minority engineering student. Due to this, I may not be permitted to be a mentor in the future
I’m part of the emergency management group as an electrician, and I was prepared to go down to Puerto Rico to help out. They said no, and I wound up sitting around doing nothing. I was absolutely devastated. I was also supposed to help out in the Seattle VA which is starting a $100+ million project and has no one with my experience to help them — I could have been useful. They said no. I was also recently denied helping out with the problems at the Washington DC VA.
It’s that kind of stuff that really gets to me.”
SOFREP has reached out to the OIG, Dharia, Dr. Singh, Miller and Alvarez to hear their sides of the story. The OIG is not authorized to comment on ongoing investigations, the others either sought legal council and did not answer the questions, or simply did not comment at all. I will update you as updates present themselves.
Whatever is discovered, someone must be held accountable. If the story was one big fabrication, then Mr. Martin wouldn’t have his job anymore — if there is truth to his claims, they ought to be investigated as such and taken very seriously, rather than simply shoving Martin into some dark corner and hoping he falls in line with their agenda or quits entirely.
Featured image courtesy of the VA, edited by the author. Navy image of Mr. Martin provided by himself.