Whistleblowers: VA's Watchdog Office Is Failing Us

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) held a hearing with Veterans Affairs whistleblowers, the current Acting Inspector General and Special Counsel for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to investigate claims of veteran abuse and continued agency misconduct and whistleblower retaliation at Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country. Dr. Katherine Mitchell and Dr. Lisa Nee testified about the malpractice and fraud they encountered working at VA hospitals during the hearing, which was held on National Whistleblower Appreciation Day.

“Frankly, the malignant culture is so pervasive at the Phoenix VA in all levels of administration that there are only two reasons why an IG team would fail to substantiate bullying behavior,” said Katherine Mitchell, the doctor who blew the whistle on the secret Phoenix wait-lists. “The first is that it deliberately chose to not look for the behaviors. Or the second: It has such poor investigative training skills that it could literally not investigate its way out of a paper bag.”

“This is the Veterans Affairs, a taxpayer-funded agency which is allowed to ignore the law and behave with brazen impunity,” said Lisa Nee, a former cardiologist at an Illinois VA hospital who reported hundreds of unread tests and dozens of unnecessary surgeries.

Carolyn Lerner, head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, said her agency is on pace to receive over 3,800 prohibited personnel-practice complaints from federal workers this year. Thirty-five percent of those will be from VA employees, she said.

The VA Office of Inspector General has been under fire since its report findings last year that said secret wait lists and patient delays in the Phoenix VA Health Care System could not be linked to patient deaths.

 Shea Wilkes, a Shreveport VA social worker in Louisiana who submitted testimony to the Thursday hearing, said that without a strong IG office, meaningful change across the VA will be impossible.

“Until you have a truly independent office to hold the VA accountable, you’re never going to see changes,” he said. “They have to appoint someone who has impeccable integrity and is not afraid to stand up to the good old boys.”

Related Links:

Video of hearing on VA Whistleblower Claims

Resources for Whistleblowers

Information on National Whistleblower Day