The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing Monday, April 13 regarding continued whistleblower retaliation within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Among the witnesses was AFGE Local 342 President Dr. Maryann Hooker. Her testimony highlighted the persistent difficulties employees must endure when reporting waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement at the Wilmington VA Medical Center in Delaware.
As employees at her facility have spoken out, Dr. Hooker told Congress, they have been “retaliated against, removed from their regular duties, or have left the VA under pressure or unwillingly.” Forms of retaliation outlined in her testimony include denial of administrative leave, unsatisfactory performance ratings, exclusion from department communications, removal of professional duties, enhanced scrutiny of clinical record charting, investigation by the OIG, and being the subject of a formal Administrative Investigation Board (AIB).
Dr. Hooker explained that the situation at her facility has become so dire that in Sept. 2014 the local “announced a no-confidence vote over management’s sudden downgrading of surgical services and further reduction in clinical offerings, such as inpatient bed availability.”
Dr. Hooker exclaimed that the story of the VA is one of two different organizations: one that cares for veterans and another that fails to hold bad managers accountable. Sadly this management culture of fear and retaliation has shown itself at numerous VA facilities across the U.S. AFGE has worked tirelessly to protect whistleblowers around the country and pressure facilities to follow Secretary McDonald's order to end retaliation once and for all.
AFGE Local 0007 President Lin Ellinghuysen is also working to protect whistleblowers at the Tomah VA facility in Wisconsin. The facility has become known for its questionable medical prescribing habits.
AFGE continues to fight for employees who raise their voices, and we are making some real progress at curbing retaliation against the VA workforce. But there is much more work to be done. AFGE will continue to fight for those who were brave enough to risk it all by speaking up for safe, quality veterans' care.
Follow news coverage of Dr. Hooker’s testimony by The News Journal here.