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Despite many promises, the VA tolerated whistleblower "retaliation" for years

Feb. 13, 2012 memo from VA Director Eric Shinseki to all employees
Patricia Campion

As Joe Davidson reported for The Washington Post Tuesday, “the House committee that has focused on the cover-up of long wait times for service at veterans hospitals will turn its attention to the federal employees who turned back the covers, sometimes risking their careers to do so.”

The House Veterans Affairs Committee, during a Tuesday evening hearing, will hear from whistleblowers who exposed the fraudulent practices that have become a national scandal.

As Leo Shane III reported June 13 for Air Force Times, “acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson promised VA employees that whistleblowers will not face harassment or punishment for reporting misbehavior in the department.”

But their supervisors might.

“I want to make clear that intimidation or retaliation against whistleblowers — or any employee who raises a hand to identify a legitimate problem, make a suggestion, or report what may be a violation of law, policy, or our core values — is absolutely unacceptable,” Shane quoted Gibson saying in a departmental message. “I will not tolerate it.”

Despite these promises, history reveals that VA leadership has tolerated whistleblower "retaliation" for years.

Noting that “the Office of Special Counsel is investigating allegations that the Department of Veterans Affairs retaliated against 37 whistleblowers, including some who tried to report actions related to the agency’s recent scheduling scandal,” Josh Hicks reported for The Washington Post June 5 that acting VA Director Sloan Gibson issued a statement, assuring VA employees that it is “committed to whistleblower protection and creating an environment in which employees feel free to voice their concerns without fear of reprisal.”

However, as Brenner Brief News reported June 9, former VA Director Eric Shinseki issued the same message of commitment – almost verbatim – more than two years ago.

“I want to reiterate and affirm VA’s commitment to whistleblower protection and creating an environment in which employees feel free to voice their legitimate concerns without free of reprisal,” Shinseki vowed in a Feb. 13, 2012 memo to all VA employees, obtained exclusively by Brenner Brief News from an inside source.

According to a July 2 press release issued by the VA -- "acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson met with Carolyn Lerner, Special Counsel of the United States Office of Special Counsel, following the Office’s letter to the President regarding VA whistleblowers."

Following through on recent recommendations for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Acting Secretary committed to VA working to achieve compliance with the OSC 2302 (c) Certification Program, and also reaffirmed his focus on ensuring protection from retaliation for employees who identify or report problems. Acting Secretary Gibson updated the Special Counsel on the ongoing review of all aspects of the Office of Medical Inspector’s (OMI) operation, which he ordered upon release of the letter. He reemphasized his commitment to earn the trust of Veterans who VA is privileged to serve.

However, in his May 9 op-ed for USA Today -- just 21 days prior to writing a letter of resignation, which President Barack Obama accepted -- Shinseki also vowed to fix the problems and “to restore integrity to our processes to earn veterans' trust.”

After 38 years in the Army, I am honored and privileged to serve veterans as the secretary of Veterans Affairs, and I remain committed to providing the high-quality care and benefits that veterans have earned and deserve. And we will.

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