The VA Scandal One Year Later: Whistleblowers Say Retaliations Have Continued Unabated (Video)

At a subcommittee hearing of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Monday, VA employees addressed lawmakers once again about the culture of whistleblower retaliation within the agency that keeps raising its ugly head.

Stars and Stripes reports that despite the increased scrutiny of the past year and a half, and the ongoing department overhaul,  whistleblowers are still facing retaliation. Indeed, if anything, according to Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL), “we’ve taken steps backwards.”

At the hearing, Monday, the employees described a workplace culture where speaking out comes at great cost, even though VA Secretary Bob McDonald has made whistleblower protection a top priority.

One doctor who testified, last summer about wait-time manipulation, was demoted “and embarrassed in front of his patients.” Another employee – an Associate Director from Alabama –  was demoted and publicly humiliated by his superiors.

“The hostility they receive for their conscientious behavior shows that the retaliatory culture, where whistleblowers are castigated for bringing problems to light, is still very much alive and well in the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said. “The truth of the matter is, the Congress needs whistleblowers within federal agencies to help identify problems on the ground in order to remain properly informed for the development of effective legislation.”

Dr. Christian Head, who testified in July about wait time manipulation at the VA’s Greater Los Angeles Health Care System, said he has been demoted, embarrassed in front of patients and nearly turned away from an operating room while his patient was under anesthesia, awaiting surgery.

Head says in August he found that the locks had been changed on his office, and he was informed that he had been moved to a “tiny, dirty, poorly furnished closet-sized office” on a different floor. He said his supervisors have engaged in a continuous effort to undermine him since July, including preventing him from meeting with McDonald when the secretary visited the Los Angeles VA system earlier this year, saying his identification badge was expired.

When he complained of his mistreatment, he told Congressmen Monday, a supervisor told him, “If you don’t like it, you’re a whistleblower, take it to Congress.”

In submitted testimony, Head also detailed instances where he said employees experienced racial and religious discrimination.

Richard Tremaine, associate director of the Central Alabama VA Healthcare System, complained that “his superiors took away his leadership role and humiliated him and another whistleblower in emails sent systemwide after he reported malfeasance by system director James Talton, who was eventually fired after an investigation showed patient wait time manipulation Alabama VA hospitals.”

“I speak with you today, with a heavy heart, disgusted by continued cover-ups, a discrediting campaign through open-ended investigations, and the attempted destruction of my career, by the very VA I have always loved being part of,” Tremaine said.

More than 25 VA whistleblowers have received legal settlements for retaliations related to the scandal and about 120 cases are still pending. Still, Carolyn Lerner, special counsel for the Office of Special Counsel, said that, while the VA is reforming, she expects 40 percent of the agency’s cases to come from the VA this year, far more than from any other agency.

 “Despite this significant progress, the number of new whistleblower cases from VA employees remains overwhelming,” she said.

She testified that “about 80% of the time – when people come to us with a disclosure, they experience retaliation.”

Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH) called on VA to end retaliation against Whistleblowers and insisted that disciplinary action against the offenders is key to nipping the problem in the bud.

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Whistleblower: I Experienced “Harassment” After Contacting WH Official Rob Nabors With VA Concerns (Video)

Via AoSHQThe VA itself is “examining” 67 claims of retaliation against whistleblowers.

Meanwhile, a doctor at the veterans hospital in Phoenix says she was harassed and humiliated after complaining about problems at the hospital, where dozens of veterans died while on waiting lists for appointments.Dr. Katherine Mitchell said the hospital’s emergency room was severely understaffed and couldn’t keep up with “the dangerous flood of patients” there. Dr. Mitchell, a former co-director of the Phoenix VA hospital’s ER, said in testimony prepared for the House committee that strokes, heart attacks, internal head bleeding and other serious medical problems were missed by staffers “overwhelmed by the glut of patients.”

Her complaints about staffing problems were ignored, Dr. Mitchell said, and she was transferred, suspended and reprimanded.

Jim Nabors is the White House official Obama sent to Phoenix to oversee a review of the VA health care system after allegations of delayed care  led to patient deaths and a cover-up by top administrators.

If you’re like me, you were thinking,  *cough*whitewash*cough*cover-up*cough*

Via The Washington Free Beacon: 

Veterans Affairs employee and whistleblower Scott Davis discussed “harassment” he endured after revealing concerns about the embattled department to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors Tuesday at a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

“The harassment I have experienced at the HEC from top levels of management include my whistleblower complaint to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors was leaked to my manager Sherry Williams, who stated in writing, that she was contacting me on behalf of Acting Secretary [Sloan] Gibson and Mr. Rob Nabors,” he said. “Neither Mr. Gibson nor Mr. Nabors have responded to this fact.”

Davis said he contacted Nabors about four weeks ago with various problems, including mismanagement of health programs, scheduling issues and enrollment system shortcomings.

“As the point of contact for the White House, I wanted him to be aware of what was going on in our office,” Davis said. “After sending that information to Mr. Nabors, I did not receive a response. I subsequently contacted the office of Deputy Chief of Staff Anita Breckenridge. I also did not receive a response, until after receiving notification from Ms. Sherry Williams that she was contacting me on behalf of the acting secretary and Mr. Rob Nabors. This surprised me that Ms. Williams would do this because she is a former OIG representative.”

I think I’ve lost the ability to feel shocked and outraged anymore.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing is ongoing, Tuesday night, here. 

 

Phoenix Whistleblower: IG Was Slanting Reports In Favor Of VA (Video)

Phoenix VA whistleblower Dr. Katherine Mitchell was on Justice with Judge Jeanine Pirro to talk about the corrupt practices at the Phoenix VA, the place where the Regime’s latest scandal blew up.

During the interview, she made an extraordinarily serious charge about the VA Office of Inspector General, which she said was slanting its reports in favor of the VA – essentially allowing them to cook the books while punishing whistle-blowers like her.

She explained that she was at the Phoenix VA  working on a project to reduce the number of patient suicides, but was put on administrative leave when she tried to blow the whistle on evidence that the books were being cooked.

She told Pirro that she discovered as she was going through some charts “some really disturbing trends”, and found that the VA’s reaction to them was “lacking to say the least.” She filed an OIG complaint with some of the “most serious and life threatening issues” included in the complaint.

Pirro asked what she thought about being put on administrative leave for speaking out.

“It’s not unusual for the VA to make up things and sabotage a physicians career for bringing things forward,” Mitchell answered. “It’s not just at Phoenix VA – it’s  VAs across the country.”

“Was this common knowledge that this was happening?” Pirro interjected. “Did the IG speak to you about this?”

Mitchell answered that the IG spoke to her for about two hours and she told them about it – but they were more interested in the documents she had.

Pirro, perking up, said, “you say you have direct knowledge of evidence being destroyed. Talk to us about that.”

Here, it gets a little murky because Mitchell didn’t really have time to tell the whole story – but it’s clear that she thinks the IG was helping the VA to cover up some very shady practices.

“What happened was an employee called and asked for my help,” Mitchell began. “The new appointment request or near list is something that basically every time a veteran requests a new patient appointment, it generates a computer fingerprint. This list pools all those fingerprints together, and you can tell the exact date when a patient requests an appointment – and then how long it’s been since they actually had their first appointment. The near list is run for each of the clinics.”

She continued to say that the OIG report was extremely deceptive when it talked about the waiting times on the near lists.

Pirro interjected again, “doctor – is what you’re saying is that the IG was – actually not being clear on what was going on? And was slanting it in favor of the VA?”

“Correct,” Mitchell answered. “The Phoenix downtown clinic’s near list started at 477 days and worked its way down.” She said the OIG  indicated levels of wait times in the 100’s.

Pirro asked her if she thought that this scandal was worthy of a criminal investigation.

Mitchell answered, “yes.”