VA Watchdog Draws Criticism for Failure to Investigate Whistleblower Retaliation
Nov 6, 2015
Northville, MI (Law Firm Newswire) November 6, 2015 – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) watchdog investigates fewer than 10 percent of the almost 40,000 complaints it receives annually about problems at the agency despite their potential to harm veterans’ health.
VA whistleblowers from across the United States spoke at a Senate hearing on Sept. 22. They claimed the department continues to retaliate against whistleblowers who report wrongdoing. The VA was also accused of failing to hold supervisors accountable more than a year after the scandal broke over wait times at the Phoenix VA hospital.
“The VA’s culture of retaliation against whistleblowers is problematic and cannot be tolerated. Employees should feel safe disclosing problems and receive prompt attention after reporting them,” said Jim Fausone, a Michigan-based veterans attorney. “Without knowledge of wrongdoing, it is not possible for the VA to take steps to improve the system.”
The Office of Inspector General is responsible for eliminating mismanagement and abuse in the department. However, Deputy Inspector General Linda Halliday claimed her office of 650 staff members lacks the resources necessary to investigate a VA that comprises over 350,000 employees and has a budget in excess of $160 billion.
Halliday said she is trying to change the office culture and allocate more resources to investigations. She took over the inspector general’s office in July after Richard Griffin retired amid criticism from whistleblowers
However, VA whistleblowers at the hearing said that the investigations her office conducts are not thorough and often target the VA employees who report problems rather than the problems themselves. Senators also complained about a scarcity of disciplinary actions taken against whistleblower retaliators. According to the VA, since 2014 the department has proposed disciplinary action for just nine employees accused of whistleblower retaliation. Over 20 cases are still under investigation.
“The lack of accountability in these cases stands in stark contrast to disciplinary actions taken against VA whistleblowers. The appointment of a permanent inspector general would be a basic first step to help ensure the office is transparent and independent,” said Fausone.
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