Since Robert McDonald has taken over as Veterans Affairs Secretary, one of his main priorities has been to crackdown on whistleblower retaliation.
Three whistleblowers from across the country said that he hasn’t done enough.
Lawmakers sitting on the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations exploded at officials from the VA and the Office of Special Counsel on Monday for dodging questions and failing to take the problem of retaliation in a serious and sober manner.
All three of the whistleblowers at Congress on Monday testified that there had been no disciplinary action for retaliatory actions directed their way. Endless promises of a culture switch, and a year later, not much has changed.
“My blood is boiling,” Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice stated. “This is a disgrace. Why is it that it’s easier to come to the determination that whistleblowers are wrong in a faster way you can say that these retaliators are wrong?”
The VA receives more retaliation claims than any other department in the federal government, and the numbers continue to rise, according to Carolyn Lerner from the Office of Special Counsel.
Doctors at the hearing gave the same story so common to whistleblower hearings, which was brought into sharp relief by the testimony of Dr. Christian Head, who is currently stationed at the Greater Los Angeles VA health care system. Head testified last July to Congress about rampant, improper record keeping at the VA.
“They take the whistleblower and isolate them, then defame them, then push them out,” Head explained. “Then they try and go back and rewrite history. They send out their surrogates to suggest that that person is a bad person, not a good doctor.”
Head stated he was demoted and repeatedly humiliated in front of patients. He has since been languishing in a “tiny, dirty” office after the locks were changed on his previous office. McDonald has a policy of meeting with whistleblowers when he visits facilities, but Head said a block was placed on his access pass, making any interaction between the two impossible.
Other whistleblowers over the last year have sounded the alarm about secret waitlists, and an internal audit conducted at the VA confirmed that 110 medical facilities maintained these lists.
Despite the presence of such a large number of lists spread out across the country, according to a document obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, the department has only proposed to take action against eight VA employees, as of April 8.
“I cannot speak to the cases of the individuals of the table here,” Meghan Flanz, director of the Office of Accountability Review at the VA, told the subcommittee. “Their issues remain pending. We currently have in my office 80 ongoing investigations, of which 15 involve, among other things, whistleblower retaliation.”
“It seems to me that if you want to send a message that wrongdoers are going to be held accountable, you actually have to hold one accountable,” Rice stated in response.