As of December 19, 2021 these are the statistics concerning American veterans this holiday season:
- More than 40,000 American veterans are homeless this Christmas.
- More than 400,000 are suffering from PTSD and are unable to get mental health treatment.
- More than 80,000 American veterans have committed suicide since 2008.
- More than 20 million American veterans are waiting to get an appointment at a United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital.
Former President Trump signed the VA Mission Act into law in June 2018, which allowed veterans to receive medical care from providers outside of the VA system. However, officials still have not provided “access standards” so veterans know when they can go to other hospitals for treatment, and those hospitals will know the VA will pay them for their services.
The VA Mission Act also authorized an Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission to determine what is working and what is not in the VA, but no one has been appointed to the commission. How did we get to this point, that veterans are so ill served by government officials in a bloated and dysfunctional agency?
In 2020, the VA employed 421,542 people, an increase of 50,000 since 2016, with a payroll in 2020 of $36.8 billion dollars. The agency remains a bureaucracy that seems intent on protecting its fiefdom, continuing the efforts to enlarge that fiefdom, and ignoring the primary purpose of being a medical system.
It certainly is not for the lack of whistleblowers and their advocates. Whistleblower Network News (WNN) previously profiled James DeNofrio, a VA whistleblower who has consistently blown the whistle on the VA since 2013, and stated ”Recent findings by the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) detail a complete failure by the VA to implement the bipartisan congressional efforts spearheaded by Chairman Jeff Miller to protect whistleblowers. VA employees are rightfully more fearful than ever of retaliation if they expose VA wrongdoing or veteran care issues. The Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) has been found by OIG to be directly engaging in whistleblower retaliation while Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) have left whistleblowers trapped in a broken system without judicial due process to address claims of retaliation.”
Jacqueline Garrick of Whistleblowers of America stated, “Employees risk their careers to protect veterans while senior VA officials travel to Europe, attend NASCAR events and curry favor with contractors at taxpayer expense.”
The whistleblower advocacy group Empower Oversight (EO) recently found records from the VA, uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that verified the VA’s long history of mistreating whistleblowers, with a culture of retaliation and “ethical conflicts.” Jason Foster, Founder and President of EO, stated that the VA has “a long record of mistreating whistleblowers that span multiple administrations.”
Brandon Coleman, a veteran and whistleblower in the OAWP, asked for protection from OSC because he noted that the work environment at OAWP was “toxic” and the OAWP office had become a “Dumpster fire.” The whistleblower protection arm of the VA had allowed officials accused of wrongdoing to participate in the investigations against the whistleblowers. Coleman has agreed to speak to WNN, and his interview will occur in January 2022.
Scott Davis entered into the VA whistleblower battlefield in 2014.
Davis was born in Newark, New Jersey to a mother and father who were high school sweethearts. His father was a veteran, and spent time in Vietnam. Davis had a traditional upbringing, and both his parents worked. Davis went to Catholic school, and most of his education was founded in religious training. Both of his parents and his religious training allowed Davis to learn the gift of charity and service at an early age. He was taught the importance of reading and critical thinking and as he aged, he developed an “investigative mind.” He liked to speak publicly and loved to write, and stated he “had great teachers” and as a young student, thought he would become an attorney. He went to Science High School in Newark, a rigorous school, and he was active in debate. He finished his last year in high school in Georgia, moving from Newark because his father died, and that experience taught him that “life is not fair.”
Davis attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and held several responsible positions such as Dorm Counselor, member of Student Council, Assistant to Vice-President of Student Affairs and member of the College Judiciary Committee. He discovered that “one had to be inside the system to change it.” Davis graduated with a degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2000.
After graduation, Davis worked for MCI WorldCom, a telecommunications company, which was his first “whistleblowing experience.” Davis was a Sales Representative who contacted small businesses and solicited for telecommunication service. Davis discovered that MCI was manipulating customer figures in order to show higher revenue, and filed a whistleblowing complaint with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). About a year later, information came out about the fraud at MCI WorldCom. The IRS informed Davis that they had no record of his complaint a year earlier, and that was his introduction on how whistleblowing complaints appear to be handled by federal agencies. He also filed his first Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint against MCI WorldCom.
In 2001, Davis became a Tax Examiner for the IRS and also became involved in local politics for the Republican party. In 2004, Davis hosted a television show and was featured on independent radio. He provided consultation work, and in 2007, moved to San Francisco, California. Davis started working in the film industry developing a documentary on health.
In April of 2011, Davis took the job of Public Affairs Specialist with the VA. His role he was responsible for promoting veteran health programs. He also handled outreach, and the health benefits website. In 2013 Davis became a Program Specialist and found himself doing the same work as a private contractor who was billing the government between $100,000 and $200,000 a month.
The Health Eligibility Center (HEC) in Atlanta, Georgia processes health care applications for the VA. The VA had hired a contractor to do the processing work, Macro Design Group in Alexandria Virginia. The VA health care process approves veterans for health care benefits, and if the VA cannot provide the medical service, a veteran can get private medical service if they have VA approval. You have to apply for VA medical healthcare benefits first before receiving any, and HEC processes the medical healthcare applications.
Davis was concerned about the processing contractor and VA personnel doing the same work which looked like fraud. There were not only incidents of fraud, but also VA funds being diverted, and he notified his management. He was informed that management would do a “fact finding mission,” and Davis was placed on temporary work detail at his residence.
Davis filed a complaint with the VA Inspector General (IG) which he felt “did nothing.” Then in May of 2014, he was placed by management on administrative leave. His complaint alleged that the “VA was not processing health care applications and were diverting funds that were for the promotion of the VA health program to a program promoting ACA because it was tied to people’s performance bonuses in senior executive positions.”
Davis contacted members of Congress and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee concerning HEC. The information he provided was immediately shared with his management team at the VA irrespective of his confidentiality. Davis testified in front of Congress in May 2014 during a hearing of the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs which was titled “VA Whistleblowers: Exposing Inadequate Service Provided to Veterans and Ensuring Appropriate Accountability.” Davis testified about the retaliation he faced for whistleblowing at the VA and noted: “This goes to the very heart of the question whether or not the VA should be allowed to police itself and whether or not an outside agency should be brought in.”
Davis noted that whistleblowers at HEC revealed the mismanagement of critical Veteran health programs and the waste of millions of dollars on Affordable Care Act direct mail marketing which should not have fallen under the VA. There was also a possible purging and deletion of over 10,000 Veteran health records at HEC. There was a backlog of approximately 600,000 pending benefit enrollment applications. In 2013, nearly 40,000 unprocessed applications were discovered.
Retaliation happened quickly to Davis, and his employment records were illegally altered. Davis was placed on involuntary administrative leave, and he noted that other whistleblowers in the VA were also experiencing retaliation. He was concerned that records and documents were being manipulated or deleted to mask a backlog at the VA, and there was a resistance by management to implementing proper and effective processing and reporting systems. Davis was removed from his access to programs involving coordination of projects.
In 2015, an OIG report was issued in response to the complaints of Davis and substantiated many of his allegations. They found that the central authority for determining VA benefits eligibility and enrollment had “not effectively managed its business processes to ensure the consistent creation and maintenance of essential data.” The report detailed how unprocessed applications (10,000) were deleted and employees hid applications in their desks. They also found that 800,000 applications were in the system, and unprocessed (in a pending status). It was noted that the VA did not report the incidents to the VA Inspector General, nor discipline their employees because upper management had taken part in the situation.
In 2019 the VA OIG issued a report entitled “Failures Implementing Aspects of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017.” This is the time period in which Davis was blowing the whistle on the VA and he was not surprised by the conclusions which noted significant deficiencies in the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP). Davis noted that “It was very clear to all of us who were whistleblowers that OAWP was not a watchdog. It existed for the purpose of exterminating whistleblowers. They were there to cleanse us from the organization.”
The IG noted that from top to bottom, investigations were incompetently carried out and biased. The VA failed to protect whistleblowers’ identities and allowed information to get back to the individuals being investigated. Money was also redirected away from the OAWP for leadership development and process improvement. The VA countered the blistering criticism by the IG, responding that the OAWP leaders responsible for the incidents noted were no longer working for the VA.
Davis noted that the VA has tried to fire him several times, and did suspend him once. However, Davis is still employed by the VA and working from his home in the bio-med division.
When asked why nothing is being done to solve the problems with the VA, Davis stated: “The United States government does not care about veterans. There are individual politicians who care, but the United States government does not care about veterans. There is no political benefit in caring about veterans.”
Presently Davis is “arguing before the White House, the EOC, and working with his Congresswoman’s Office because the management team at the VA has been referring to me (Davis) as ‘the fucking (N) word’.” These words were “in instructions given to my former manager who signed off on my suspension.” Davis advised that his contact with President Biden’s staff regarding the racial slur led him to Sophia Rubio, an aide in the White House. Davis also reached out for the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice to have them intervene “in his behalf” for the derogatory comments and racial slurs aimed at him.
Davis noted that retaliation against whistleblowers often comes in the form of personal comments in the workplace and he cannot believe that in the 21st century a government employee has to deal with slurs. OAWP has not offered any assistance and it “works exactly as the Government intended it to work. OAWP was established to go after whistleblowers. It was filled with the same VA managers who were harassers in the first place.”
Davis understands he has been provided a platform to attract attention to severe problems at the VA and the treatment experienced by his fellow whistleblowers. The religious training he received as a youth and the principles instilled in him by his parents will not allow him to walk away from the battle arena in which he finds himself. Life is not fair, but neither is it to be feared.