Abuse investigation at Veterans Service office

By Wayne Gates
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By Wayne Gates

The director of the Brown County Veterans Services office has been suspended with pay pending an investigation into allegations of improper behavior in the office. Ralph Fox was suspended from his duties at a meeting of the Brown County Veterans Service Commission on July 2. Fox has been working at the office since October of 1994 and currently draws a salary of $44,200 per year. The members of the Brown County Veterans Service Commission will be conducting the investigation. No timetable on its completion was announced. The matter came to a head after Common Pleas Judge Scott Gusweiler received a letter complaining about the office from Rick Rhoades, Adjutant General of VFW 9772 in Mt. Orab. Gusweiler also received a complaint from Veterans Service Officer Cheryl Childers about a hostile working environment in the office, precipitated primarily by Fox. Gusweiler wrote the commission the following in a letter dated July 2. “As the appointed members of the Veterans Service Commission, Director Fox is under your direct supervision. I am forwarding this information to you as any allegations of misconduct must be investigated by the Commission. As the appointing authority of the Commission, please inform me of the outcome of the investigation.” The commission told The Brown County Press on July 2 that Childers would be in charge of the office during the investigation. “I would like to assure the veterans of Brown County that their claims and other issues will be the top priority of this office,” Childers said. The Brown County Press was provided with complaints and other information filed by Childers with the board following a public records request. They include a complaint filed with the BCVS board on May 22 for Harassment and a Hostile Work Environment. Regarding Fox, Childers reported that he was “Creating a hostile work environment by making derogatory remarks toward me and bullying me in front of the Veterans Services Commissioners at the May 2018 board meeting.” The complaint continued, “Mr. Ralph Fox yelled at me in the May 22, 2018 board meeting and told me to ‘shut my damned mouth.’ I told him I didn’t have to, I have as much right as anyone else to say something. He responded ‘you don’t know what you are talking about.’ I said ‘maybe because you always leave me in the dark about everything.’ His response was ‘that’s where you should be.’ All commissioners were present and witness to this.” In an additional undated supplemental statement, Chiders wrote,“In the time I have worked here at Brown County Veteran Services, I have been repeatedly treated in a very hostile manner. I am subject to constant abuse and am now in fear of what may happen to me. I have been threatened numerous times, once while (Fox) was holding a gun, grabbed and screamed at, called names, ridiculed, and made to feel that I can do nothing right. I am alienated by my co-workers because they will not speak to me when Mr. Fox is present and are told to report ‘everything’ I do when he is not present.” Childers said more in an undated rebuttal to a September 2015 performance review where Fox called her “defensive”. “I am defensive when I am being yelled at, called names, and ridiculed. Most people are. Mr. Fox consistently talks to me in a very hostile and negative manner…Mr. Fox says things like ‘you’re an idiot’ or calls me ‘duty’ referring to crap. He tells me ‘you’re not as important as Tammy (Ogle) and ‘I will get even with you.’ Knowing that Mr. Fox keeps a gun in the office and has grabbed my arm while screaming and yelling at me with a gun in one hand and holding my arm with the other to ‘shut the hell up’ I think I have earned the right to be defensive working in a hostile environment such as this.” In the letter from Rhoades to Gusweiler, Rhoades questions the service provided by the BCVS office. “For several years the Brown County Service Office has, on a number of occasions, been guilty of not serving our nation’s veterans in a commendable manner. This derogatory action towards local men and women who honorably served in the Armed Forces of the United States is unacceptable.” He continued, “The overriding question is: why does the Brown County Veterans Service office have such a poor performance record? The answer is: inadequate leadership at the top position in the office. As long as this person(Fox) remains in charge of the Brown County office a number of local veterans are going to receive less than adequate assistance they rightfully earned and deserve.” Commission member Roger Carter said he wanted to assure the public that the Brown County BCVS office was staying on mission. “We are open for business. The office is fully operational. We are here to file claims, give assistance to the veterans or anything else that needs to be done.” He added, “We are grateful to Ralph Fox for his almost 25 years of service to our office.” Fox could not be reached for comment.

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By Wayne Gates