More whistleblower troubles at Veterans Affairs hospitals

VA whistleblowers will be the subject of Tuesday hearing scheduled by the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

VA accountability

Among those testifying: three health care whistleblowers profiled this weekend in USA Today. They say VA officials has been trying to silence them since they reported patient care problems.

They work at different sites – in the Phoenix area, Baltimore, and Iowa City, Iowa – yet the VA response has been similar. All were stripped of assigned patient-care and oversight duties, and they suspect VA managers are retaliating against them for speaking out, and sidelining them to prevent them from discovering or disclosing any more problems with veteran health care.

Last summer, NPR talked to more than 30 current and former employees to investigate similar complaints about a VA hospital in Alabama.

All describe an entrenched management culture that uses fear and intimidation to prevent potential whistleblowers from talking. 

“If you say anything about patient care and the problems, you’re quickly labeled a troublemaker and attacked by a clique that just promotes itself. Your life becomes hell,” one longtime employee at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, or CAVHCS, told NPR. Like many we interviewed there, she requested anonymity out of fear for her job.

Whistleblowers at the VA had hoped for more protection when, in 2017, the Trump Administrations created the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. However, critics have said the program works against whistleblowers rather than working to protect them. In May, general counsel and acting head of the VA James Byrne praised the law at his confirmation hearing.

The situation for whistleblowers at the VA was also the subject of a 2018 Government Accountability Office report that found whistleblowers were ten times more likely than their peers to receive disciplinary action within a year of reporting misconduct. The report also found that VA managers investigated themselves for misconduct.



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