The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a well-documented culture of hostility towards whistleblowers. In June, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report detailing that a fear of whistleblower retaliation prevented VA employees from speaking out about an impaired pathologist in Arkansas who was drunk on the job and misdiagnosed thousands of veterans. A bipartisan bill seeks to help correct this culture by requiring whistleblower training for all VA employees.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General Training Act of 2021 (VA OIG Training Act) was introduced on July 23 by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and John Boozman (R-AR). The act mandates that the VA provide training to all employees on reporting waste, fraud, and abuse to the VA OIG. This training, which is to be developed by the VA OIG, will also include information on the anti-retaliation protections afforded to VA whistleblowers.
Without proper training, employees often lack the skills required to spot fraud and abuse and are often unaware of the protections afforded to them as whistleblowers.
The bill would also allow the VA OIG to send department-wide emails at least twice a year without having to obtain prior permission from the VA Secretary, as is currently the case. According to Senator Hassan’s press release, “[t]his would allow the VA OIG to send an email to employees on National Whistleblower Day as well.”
“VA employees must know to speak up if they see concerns with veterans’ care or other waste, fraud, and abuse,” said Senator Hassan, who recently joined the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus. “This bipartisan bill will help ensure that VA employees are vigilant in order to protect the benefits and care that veterans have earned and deserve. Any wasted VA resource is one taken from a veteran, so I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass this important bill.”
“Our veterans deserve nothing short of high-quality care, and the Inspector General’s Office plays an important role in helping ensure the VA is meeting its lawful obligations,” Senator Boozman said. “Our bill will help foster cooperation between VA employees and the Inspector General so that reporting wrongdoing is a process all employees are trained in. Protecting our former service members from negligence or willful misconduct must be a top priority.”
“Effective oversight depends on VA employees reporting wrongdoing and cooperating fully with VA Office of Inspector General investigations, inspections, audits, and evaluations. Early and accurate reporting by VA staff can save patients’ lives, protect VA employees, ensure veterans timely receive needed benefits and services, and recoup billions of dollars in monetary recoveries and avoided costs,” said VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal. “This training will also advance the Secretary’s commitment to holding employees accountable, protecting whistleblowers and other complainants, and ensuring all information is obtained that contributes to fair and balanced oversight.”