The U.S. Office of the Special Counsel is investigating allegations filed by 37 whistleblowers in the Department of Veterans Affairs who allege that retaliatory action was taken against them for speaking up about violations or unethical practices, NBC News reports. One of the cases involved a worker who was suspended after complaining about inappropriate scheduling procedures.
“We’re concerned by what we’re seeing,” said OSC spokesman Nick Schwellenback to NBC News “… The frequency of retaliation complaints has given us a lot of pause.”
The OSC issued a press release on Thursday stating that the complaints were filed by employees in 19 states: Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wyoming. The VA has “one of the highest reprisal case rates in the federal government” Schwellenback said.
The release discussed details of three cases. In one case, an employee filed a complaint about scheduling and coding procedures. Allegedly, that employee was told that he or she would be placed under a seven-day suspension after the complaint was filed. The employee also allegedly had his or her performance evaluation lowered and was reassigned.
There were similar allegations about improper scheduling practices at a VA hospital in Phoenix. This kicked off a widespread scandal that resulted in the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last week, NBC reports. It was alleged that a fake wait time list was produced showing that veterans were receiving their appointments within 14 to 30 days; meanwhile, there was a secret list showing actual wait times, which were often much longer. These seemingly-improved wait times were allegedly used to ensure that administrators would receive financial bonuses for meeting their goals. Late last month, an internal VA report linked 23 deaths to delays in care.
The other cases detailed in the press release involved employees who reported the “inappropriate and continuous use of patient restraints in violation of VA rules and procedures,” In another case, a worker was reassigned after speaking out about the mishandling or patient care funds.
Schwellenbach says that there is support for whistleblowers within the VA system. “We’re encouraged by the statements from VA leadership over the last few days, that have recognized the importance of protecting whistleblowers and their role in highlighting problems within the VA system,” he stated.