A recent report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) demonstrates that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) whistleblowers continue to face high rates of retaliation.
The VA is one of the largest federal agencies with 400,000 employees and hundreds of medical facilities. Those who witness fraud or malpractice within the agency are able to use the VA Whistleblower Protection Program, which is meant to protect against retaliation and protect the identity of the complainant. However, as GAO reported in 2018, VA whistleblowers are subject to pervasive retaliation.
VA Whistleblowers who face retaliation can raise their cases to the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) or the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP). However, a 2019 report by the Office of the Inspector General for Veterans Affairs revealed that these bodies were failing to fulfill their missions of protecting whistleblowers.
Since then, GAO has released annual reports on the handling of whistleblower retaliation cases by OAWP and OSC.
The recent GAO report reveals that the number of VA Whistleblower retaliation reports received by OAWP has increased from 577 in 2020 to 736 in 2023. At OAWP, the majority of whistleblower settlements and complaints addressed in FY 2022-23 stemmed from the Veterans Health Administration.
Meanwhile, the number of retaliation reports received by OSC has decreased in number – from 901 in 2018 to 515 in 2022. Additionally, the reports have increasingly closed with a favorable action for the whistleblower, though still small: rising from 3% to 10%.
Whistleblower retaliation complaints constitute an overwhelming majority of the VA complaints received by OSC. Between 2018 and 2022, 69% of OSC cases involving VA employees included allegations of whistleblower retaliation.
“The maltreatment of any whistleblower is unacceptable, but the pervasive retaliation against VA whistleblowers is all the more upsetting when we consider that these whistleblowers are seeking to protect the people who protect our country, many of whom are themselves veterans,” said Nelson.