Danelle Harrington is shown working at Stand Down, an annual event for homeless veterans in San Diego, in this undated photo. (Courtesy of Danelle Harrington)

A Veterans Village of San Diego employee was fired after sharing her concerns about the organization with inewsource.

Danelle Harrington, who used to work at Veterans Village as the warehouse donations coordinator, spoke out about drug use and other issues at the nonprofit’s rehab center on Pacific Highway in an inewsource investigation published last week.

The reporting exposed widespread drug use at the treatment center, unsafe living conditions, violence on the campus and a severe staffing shortage.

During the investigation, inewsource interviewed 44 people who have lived or worked at Veterans Village. Residents used phrases like “Club Med” to describe living at the rehab center and said they struggled to stay sober in the face of regular substance use on the campus.

Police records show that an employee was caught last year selling methamphetamine and exposing himself inside the treatment facility. Following several overdoses this year, San Diego County probation officials pulled clients out of the treatment center and cut off referrals. And the Drug Enforcement Administration is investigating a suspected fentanyl overdose death on the campus that occurred in April.

Harrington, a former firefighter in the Navy, said she shared her concerns with inewsource to try to improve the conditions for residents.

“I thought that the right thing to do was to speak up,” Harrington said. “I felt that the more people that did speak up, the more change might happen.”

The day the investigation published, Harrington said she was called into a meeting with a human resources representative.

“She had a file with her and she explained, ‘We’re sorry we have to do this,’” Harrington said.

Danelle Harrington, a former firefighter in the Navy, is shown in this undated photo. (Courtesy of Danelle Harrington)

Harrington was asked why she didn’t come to human resources with her concerns about the nonprofit, she said. She told them she had bad experiences with a prior supervisor that discouraged her from turning to management for help.

Her keys and badge were taken away, she said, and her employment was terminated.

“It’s a complete shock, but a blessing in disguise,” Harrington said. “I was very unhappy with the way VVSD was headed. It was really, really tearing on my heartstrings to see all the death, the drugs on campus, the failure for people that were trying so hard to make it and were unable to get the support and services they needed.”

Danelle Harrington is shown working at Veterans Village of San Diego in this undated photo. (Courtesy of Danelle Harrington)

Harrington was nominated as San Diego’s Veteran of the Year in 2019, and she received signed certificates of Congressional recognition from four state and federal lawmakers to congratulate her on the achievement. That year, she shook hands with former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson when he toured the renowned treatment center.

At the time of her departure last week, Harrington was organizing a major clothing drive that took place days after she was fired. She was also supposed to handle staffing the clothing tents at this year’s Stand Down, the nonprofit’s signature three-day event that connects homeless veterans with public services and community support.

Harrington graduated from Veterans Village’s rehab center in 2017 before becoming an employee. She said the program she went through was a life-changing experience that helped address her alcohol use and reconnect with her family.

“I am heartbroken that I have to leave VVSD honestly, because VVSD has given me the last seven years of my sobriety,” she said.

Danelle Harrington is shown posing with her daughters in this undated photo. (Courtesy of Danelle Harrington)

In May, on the day after inewsource and Veterans Village leadership were scheduled to have an interview, employees were emailed a media policy that prohibited them from speaking with reporters. Staff were expected to date and sign the policy and turn it in.

“As with any policy here at VVSD, if they are not followed, disciplinary action may be taken, up to and including termination,” the email said.

Veterans Village leadership did not respond to a request for comment about Harrington’s termination.

Harrington spoke with inewsource before signing the media policy in May. She said she hoped she would not be fired for speaking with the media, but she doesn’t regret it.

“I still feel that I did the right thing,” she said.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jill Castellano is an investigative data coordinator for inewsource. When she's not deep in a spreadsheet or holed up reporting and writing her next story, she's probably hiking, running or rock climbing. She also loves playing board games and discussing the latest chapters with her book club. Jill...