A Department of Veterans Affairs regional office manager, who was not wearing pants, cursed out and insulted his subordinates during a virtual town hall meeting when he assumed his microphone and camera were off, his colleagues said.
Edward Fuenmayor, an assistant veterans service center manager in Phoenix, was reassigned after the outburst last week, the VA said.
In a letter obtained by NBC News, Fuenmayor apologized for the incident, saying he “embarrassed” himself and the agency with his “recent behavior and use of inappropriate language.”
“I deeply regret my choice of words, my actions, and understand that it was disrespectful and offensive,” he wrote.
More than 200 people were at the mandatory Microsoft Teams meeting last Wednesday when Fuenmayor erupted over questions a VA National Call Center employee asked at the end of the hour-long call.
Fuenmayor declined to comment to NBC News.
The manager, who was in his underwear, cursed multiple times, said Call Center employees were “idiots” who asked “stupid questions,” and appeared to slam something in frustration, according to screenshots of the meeting’s chat room and two employees who spoke to NBC News on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
“He was, like, furious. That guy was cussing up a storm, and he had his drawers on,” one of the employees said. “He didn’t know he was on the hot mic.”
After the outburst, which was video recorded, six people immediately expressed their offense in the Teams chat, while another five acknowledged they heard the comments, according to screenshots of the conversation.
One employee wrote that the remarks were “unprofessional and uncalled for,” while another commented “scathing review.” In all capital letters, a third employee told Fuenmayor he was not muted and said he “gave a peep show on top of it.”
Assistant Director Amanda French apologized for the incident in another comment, urging everyone to return to work. “We are addressing the issue,” she wrote. “Know we appreciate you.” French did not respond to a request for comment.
On Wednesday, VA press secretary Terrence Hayes said Fuenmayor has been “reassigned to nonsupervisory duties” while the agency conducts a “thorough and immediate investigation.”
Hayes said the VA would “hold accountable any employee who failed in their assigned duties and responsibilities” once the investigation is complete.
“At VA, we hold all of our leaders to the highest standards of professionalism and respect — whether they’re interacting with veterans or their fellow employees,” he said. “This behavior represents a failure to live up to our core values.”
Fuenmayor has held a VA leadership role as a supervisor or manager since at least 2020.
In his roughly 200-word letter to all employees, sent the day after the town hall, he said his “actions did not represent a welcome environment.”
Town halls, he wrote, are an “opportunity for employees to have an open discussion and to ask questions” and that they “should feel free and welcomed to inquire upon any topic.”
“I understand that my actions were hurtful, and I want to assure you that this behavior is not a reflection of my true character,” Fuenmayor wrote. “I am committed to making the office a protected space for open thought and dialogue.”
The VA has said it hosts town halls as a way to better support its employees during a time of surging claims and burnout. An increasing number of claims processors have left the job, NBC News previously reported.
About 600 resigned or retired from the VA in 2022, a 42% jump from roughly 420 in 2020, data shows. The VA said 500 processors left in 2021, and nearly the same number had already resigned or retired this year, as of the end of August.
An employee who was at the town hall, who also works for the National Call Center, said Fuenmayor’s remarks did not help a growingly stressful situation.
“We get cussed out every week by veterans. Now you’re cussing us out on a Teams meeting,” she said. “It’s a lot of verbal abuse.”
Call Center workers are tasked with helping veterans, service members and their family members who dial the VA’s toll-free hotline. The employee said she worried the incident would discourage staff members, particularly new ones, from asking valid and important questions necessary to do the job.
“We take the bulk of the calls. We hear the frustration of the public,” she said. “It’s a hurtful feeling when the people who work for this organization are not valued.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com