WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is pressing the Department of Veterans Affairs for answers on reported widespread mistreatment and punishment of whistleblowers. Grassley called the reported mistreatment “beyond unacceptable” in a letter to the agency secretary and inspector general.
“Improvement of veteran health care is dependent, in large part, on the encouragement and protection of whistleblowers within the VA,” Grassley wrote. “Yet, it appears that whistleblowers are not encouraged but instead retaliated against. The pervasiveness of whistleblower retaliation at the VA creates a culture that deters positive organizational change. In the aggregate, it appears that there is an epidemic of whistleblower retaliation at the VA. Frankly, the status quo is beyond unacceptable.”
Grassley asked a series of questions on what steps the agency is taking to prevent whistleblower retaliation.
Agency employees who have come forward with concerns about patient health and safety or treatment waiting times have reported retaliation against them for coming forward, including being demoted, being moved to storage rooms or removed from their positions. Managers also reportedly accessed employee medical records to use in retaliation.
According to The Washington Post, since the confirmation of Secretary Robert A. McDonald in July 2014, the Office of Special Counsel has received 111 whistleblower reprisal cases involving health and safety issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Carolyn Lerner, special counsel at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, testified before Congress that 40 percent of all government whistleblower cases come from the VA. Out of all federal agencies, the VA has the highest number of whistleblower cases.
Grassley has a long history of working to protect whistleblowers, both legislatively and through his oversight efforts.
Grassley’s letter to McDonald and Inspector General Richard Griffin is available here.