WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Government Employees strongly urges the Department of Veterans Affairs to implement enhanced whistleblower protections following the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC)’s letter to President Obama regarding ongoing deficiencies at VA facilities.
The letter from OSC’s Carolyn Lerner outlines the problematic practice of the VA’s failure to take whistleblower complaints seriously and implement changes that would improve patient care.
“We are not surprised by the OSC findings,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “We are regularly working with AFGE members who have taken all of the necessary steps to report waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement at the agency, only for little or no change to occur. These employees should not have to fear loss of duties, lowered performance ratings, or harassment simply for doing the right thing.”
In a June letter to VA General Counsel William Gunn, AFGE General Counsel David Borer requested guidance explicitly stating that whistleblowers exposing deficiencies in patient care should not be subject to unwarranted reprisal from management:
“We ask that your office issue guidance to VA employees and management in order to foster transparency and to ensure that investigators are able to thoroughly examine and enhance systems and procedures for the care of our veterans. The guidance should specify that employees may, without fear of reprisal, work with union representatives to report to the VA Office of Inspector General, or OSC, or Congress, concerns about waste, fraud, abuse, violations of law, policy, and safety and health concerns.”
One of the most persistent obstacles to exposing patient care has been HIPPA and the Privacy Act– the laws governing patient privacy in the medical field. In many cases, VA employees have come forward to blow the whistle on patient care abuses, only to be threatened by VA investigators with a potential HIPPA violation – a firable offense in much of the medical field. This obstacle prevents employees from fully substantiating their patient care allegations, and gives management a powerful tool to silence and intimidate whistleblowers.
“Fear of retaliation and reprisal among dedicated VA employees is a significant hindrance to those wishing to voice their concerns about wrong doing,” said Cox. “Coupled with the agency’s lack of meaningful action when these issues arise puts our veterans in a precarious position. It is time for a culture change at the VA, where employees are empowered to come forward with information that can institute positive change at the agency, and the department gets serious about putting the needs of our nation’s heroes above all else.”
Click here to read AFGE’s letter to VA General Counsel Gunn.