Whistleblowing can be a dangerous undertaking. For some whistleblowers, the loss of their career can be a defining moment in which they are plunged into loss of identity, thrust into an employment graveyard and for some, psychologically broken into hundreds of shards which take years to reassemble. But, it is possible for whistleblowers to survive and thrive. Hopefully by identifying whistleblowers who have suffered the crucible of whistleblowing and emerged as successful survivors, hope can be extended to all whistleblowers, past and present. Jacqueline Garrick is one of those survivors and this is her story.
Jacqueline Garrick was born in New York on Long Island, and Garrick refers to her childhood as “the wonder years.” Her father was a car salesman and her mother went to art school, with Garrick raised in a reformed conservative Jewish home. Garrick found the 1960’s and 1970’s to be an idyllic time, and she was an idealist. She wanted to believe in people, explore the world, and help others, and she volunteered as a hospital aide at sixteen.
Garrick’s values and belief system came with Judaism as a backdrop, and patriotic values were impressed upon her. Stories from her grandparents told of having to hide under floorboards of their house in Ukraine by the Polish border, when the Cossacks and Nazis tore through their town. It influenced Garrick greatly, as it reinforced her world view with admiration for “survivors and right-doers.”
Garrick graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia receiving a bachelor of social work and Licensed Social Worker degrees. After graduation in 1986, Garrick did an internship at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in New York, and from the beginning was fascinated with the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans returning from Vietnam. She saw “hope and promise” in treating veterans’ PTSD trauma, and she loved learning how to treat trauma to “integrate and mitigate the symptoms” of PTSD.
In 1992, Garrick joined the Army as a Captain, working as a social work officer, following the adage “if you want to work with veterans, be one.” She was posted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. While on duty, the Executive Director of the American Legion asked Garrick if she wanted to stay in D.C. and offered her the job of Deputy Director of Healthcare; after her discharge she took the job.
From 2005 to 2007, Garrick worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission, a job that she loved. The Commission finished by issuing a report that had 113 recommendations, which Garrick constructed and edited. Afterwards, the House Veterans Affairs Committee offered a position, which Garrick took, as it presented a unique opportunity. Two years later, Garrick was appointed by the Obama Administration to the Department of Defense (DoD) to work in the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (P&R).
While at P&R, Garrick was asked to organized the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) in 2011, which oversaw disability policies impacting wounded warriors, mental health care accessibility for the National Guard and Reserves, suicide prevention and diversity and inclusion. It was an honor for Garrick to set up the DSPO, as “she had the background and experience” to accomplish it. Garrick weathered turmoil and transition in the P&R office, experiencing ten Under Secretaries cycling through over eight years, with 12 different supervisors and fifteen office moves.
In 2014 Garrick was placed under a supervisory political appointee who demonstrated animus toward Garrick after she made disclosures regarding possible conflict of interest problems and possible contract fraud. Garrick was moved to another chain of command, and found her position converted. In 2015, Garrick discovered her performance ratings were being lowered, and job openings were being closed to her. Garrick filed a Prohibited Personnel Practice (PPP) complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
There are 14 types of PPPs that the OSC adjudicates, and Garrick started down the road of filing a whistleblower retaliation complaint. Garrick stated that she made a mistake going to both the OSC and the Office of Inspector General (OIG). She subsequently found out that by going to OSC, OIG told her they were not going to open a case, and Garrick “should let OSC adjudicate the case.” The OIG never did anything with Garrick’s allegations, because she had gone to OSC. OSC did no investigation of Garrick’s allegations concerning contract fraud and only looked at Garrick’s retaliation complaint. OSC only looked at the PPP and not the disclosures of conflict of interest. OSC declared Garrick a whistleblower, and gave her the right to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), but Garrick’s attorney advised her that it would cost $70,000 to pursue her case. Garrick was a political appointee, and in 2016 was looking at losing her government position due to the end of the Obama Administration.
The MSPB would not provide Garrick with any accommodations in settlement. As a disabled veteran, Garrick was surprised how everything turned out, as she felt job accommodations could have been easily made. Garrick realizes now that she should have made her disclosures to OIG, and not her whistleblower retaliation case. She now knows that she should have gone to OIG and insisted they look at the contract issues she was reporting.
In 2016 MSPB judge asked the DoD if there was any way to settle Garrick’s case, and in January 2017, Garrick’s appointment by Obama expired, and Garrick had no job.
Garrick had faith in the system, and felt that she would continue in government service but the agreement reached with DoD was a disability retirement through the Office of Personal Management (OPM). DoD closed Garrick’s case, and a case was opened with OPM, and OPM denied Garrick’s request for retirement. In 2018, Garrick appealed, adding additional evidence she received after waiting a year for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In 2020, with the additional FOIA information, the judge overturned the OPM denial, and Garrick was awarded disability retirement going back to 2017.
Garrick incorporated Whistleblowers of America (WoA) in 2017, after seeing a need for peer support for whistleblowers. She brought her military and social work expertise to the whistleblower community because she saw a need. She has been a proponent of peer support as a means of building a holistic system for resilience in whistleblowers.
WoA is a nonprofit organization “assisting whistleblowers who have suffered retaliation after having identified harm to individuals or the public.” Garrick has provided Whistleblower Peer Mentors with peer support techniques to other whistleblowers. WoA provides education and training to help people understand whistleblower retaliation and hostile work environment prevention. WoA also engages the media in public advocacy campaigns on behalf of whistleblowers and watchdogs.
Garrick has written “Whistleblowers of America Peer Support Mentor Training Manual: Peer Support in Overcoming the Toxic Tactics of Whistleblower Retaliation” and is currently working on a future book concerning the psycho-social aspects of whistleblowing. On the WoA website, there is a survey that Garrick hopes whistleblowers will take. She is trying to reach the point where she will be able to measure whistleblower trauma affecting the quality of a whistleblower’s life. If the trauma can be measured, potentially there are grounds for collecting damages for trauma like PTSD in whistleblower cases.
WoA is also offering a panel on September 9th and 10th, 2021 which will be the launch of a new program called the Workplace Promise Initiative. Details can be found on the website.
Whistleblowers, like military veterans, experience hostile environments, they fight for what is right, and suffer the consequences causing depression, PTSD and suicide. Garrick states “that much like a military veteran, whistleblowers with PTSD are engaged in a war that never ends. It takes hold of your soul, and whistleblowers need to focus on the people who feed you, and stay away from the people who starve you.”