The U.S. Office of the Special Counsel announced last week that it is investigating alleged retaliation against 37 whistleblowers in the Department of Veterans Affairs, including a case in which a worker was suspended after complaining about improper scheduling procedures.
In a press release, the OSC said the complaints alleging illegal retaliation were filed by employees at VA facilities in 19 states: Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, NBC News reports. The OSC is responsible for protecting federal employees from prohibited personnel practices. The news release did not identify the particular VA facilities involved, but a spokesman for the OSC told NBC News that the VA has “one of the highest reprisal case rates in the federal government.”
The OSC release described three of the 37 cases under review, including one in which an employee complained to the VA’s Office of the Inspector General about scheduling and coding procedures at an unnamed VA facility. Similar allegations at a VA hospital in Phoenix in March were what triggered the scandal that led to the recent resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The OSC release says that a VA employee was allegedly given a seven-day suspension, a lowered performance evaluation, and was reassigned after filing a complaint. Another case involves a VA employee who reported the “inappropriate and continuous use of patient restraints in violation of VA rules and procedures.” In a third case, a worker was reassigned and faces demotion after disclosing the mishandling of patient care funds, according to NBC News. The release said the VA agreed to defer proposed discipline in the cases to allow full investigation of the reprisal claims.
A VA internal review reported last month found a link between 23 deaths and wait times at VA facilities, USA Today reported last month. The report linked delays in screenings for potential gastrointestinal cancer in 76 veterans treated at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to 23 deaths, most of which occurred three to four years ago.
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