Whistleblowers are Putting it All on the Line. Will Congress Protect Them?

Categories: VA

More employees are feeling safer to bring their concerns to light as the number of whistleblower complaints has doubled the past few years. The tiny agency that investigates these complaints, however, is still severely underfunded.

According to new numbers from The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), more whistleblowers have stepped forward to report waste, fraud, and abuse in their agencies.

OSC last year received nearly 2,000 whistleblower complaints, a 27 percent increase from 2014. The uptick was due to a slew of new cases filed by Department of Veterans Affairs employees. Of the 2,000 cases, 755 were from the VA.

 “This is the beginning of culture change, and we need that culture to keep improving,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “The surge reflects an environment more open to the valuable and unique input of front line employees. They are also encouraged by other employees who were able to come forward and be recognized for their contributions rather than punished.”

The OSC should be applauded for its excellent work in investigating all these new cases. The agency needs a lot more resources to keep up with the workload, which has doubled since 2008 while the agency budget has gone up only by 31 percent during the same period.

AFGE agrees with OSC spokesman Nick Schwellenbach when he said, “As OSC obtains more positive outcomes for whistleblowers, our results promote confidence and more employees are willing to step forward to file a claim or make a disclosure of wrongdoing.”

AFGE is also very pleased that the 2016 budget funds expanded VA management training on whistleblower rights. We urge Congress to enact legislation to protect a group of VA clinicians who risked their careers to be whistleblowers.

In addition to being denied an equal right to grieve and negotiate over issues such as overtime, workload, and scheduling, these employees currently lack whistleblower protections when they face punitive performance evaluations as a result of speaking out. These employees are a critical part of the VA.  They are doctors, dentists, registered nurses, physician assistants, podiatrists, optometrists, chiropractors, and expanded duty dental auxiliaries. VA is losing good employees left and right. Tens of thousands of vacancies for doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are left unfilled at VA hospitals across the country. Congress needs to fix this problem and fix it fast if VA is to fulfill its mission of providing the best care to our veterans.

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