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VA Staff Members Say They Are the Target of Retaliation

Jun 20, 2014

Current and former staff members from a number of Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country have said in interviews that they have long objected to practices at the VA that involved falsifying of patient appointment schedules.

The staffers now say they have been the subjects of retaliation, according to interviews conducted by The New York Times. Also according to the interviews and internal documents, the whistleblowers allege that their objections to unethical practices were met with rejections, disciplinary actions, and terminations. Claims of wrongdoing involve long wait times for veterans seeking appointments and bogus scheduling books, which has resulted in hundreds of VA staff contacting whistleblower groups, federal watchdog groups, lawmakers, attorneys, and unions for assistance, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

The reports, which, in some cases, were corroborated by internal documents, are also similar to other reports issued by VA personnel that appear in court filings, government investigations, and Congressional testimony. Overall, the various reports point to a workplace ruled by silence and intimidation and show that the agency long retaliated against whistleblowers. In response to the debacle, Sloan D. Gibson, acting VA secretary, said, “I understand that we’ve got a cultural issue there, and we’re going to deal with that cultural issue.” Gibson replaced Eric Shinseki after Shinseki’ resignation in the wake of the scandal in May. Gibson added that punishing whistleblowers is “absolutely unacceptable,” the Columbus Dispatch reported.

The federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates whistleblower complaints, is looking into 37 retaliation claims that were filed by VA employees in 19 states. The Office of Special Counsel has also convinced the VA to cease its discipline actions against three whistleblowers. A few-dozen VA hospitals have been implicated in the debacle that seems to go back at least seven years, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

U.S. Representative Jeff Miller (Republican-Florida), who is also chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee for over three years, said that the VA's so-called “culture of dishonesty” represents a serious issue. Representative Miller also indicated that he visited 40 VA and Department of Defense facilities since the start of the 113th Congress last January.

"I have been to medical centers across this country where directors have lied to me while I have sat at their conference table and they have told me they have no wait times," he said, according to USA Today. In fact, the VA's Office of Inspector General noted in its recent investigation of the ongoing scandal that so-called “rampant gaming” of the appointment tracking system has gone on for years.

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