Whistleblowers from Department of Veteran’s Affairs hospitals offered dramatic testimony Tuesday about how they had been punished after raising quality-of-care issues. They also say the VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection offers little protection from retribution.

The oversight subcommittee of the House Veterans Affairs committee heard from both whistleblowers and advocates on what was described as a “culture problem” within the VA.

Minu Aghevli, who runs the opioid treatment program for the VA’s Maryland Health Care System, raised concerns about the handling of waiting list statistics about five years ago. Since then, Aghevli told the committee, she has been the subject of “constant harassment, scrutinizing and frivolous investigations.”

The retaliation and threats have continued, said Aghevli, who noted that she learned the day before the hearing that she was being “terminated” from her job.

 

Katherine Mitchell, MD, won a “public servant of the year” award from the VA after she disclosed understaffing and inadequate triage training at the Phoenix VA medical center’s emergency room. That did not protect her from retaliation, which she said has been  “extreme and ongoing.”

Still, Mitchell said she had no choice: There is “no other way to stop patients dying…Until leadership improves, employees will act as a safety-net.”

Continue Reading Who is the VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection protecting? Whistleblowers say it works against them

VA whistleblowers will be the subject of Tuesday hearing scheduled by the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

VA Whistleblowers
VA accountability

Among those testifying: three health care whistleblowers profiled this weekend in USA Today They say VA officials has been trying to silence them since they reported patient care problems.

They work at different sites – in the Phoenix area, Baltimore, and Iowa City, Iowa – yet the VA response has been similar. All were stripped of assigned patient-care and oversight duties, and they suspect VA managers are retaliating against them for speaking out, and sidelining them to prevent them from discovering or disclosing any more problems with veteran health care.

Last summer, NPR talked to more than 30 current and former employees to investigate similar complaints about a VA hospital in Alabama.

All describe an entrenched management culture that uses fear and intimidation to prevent potential whistleblowers from talking. 

“If you say anything about patient care and the problems, you’re quickly labeled a troublemaker and attacked by a clique that just promotes itself. Your life becomes hell,” one longtime employee at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, or CAVHCS, told NPR. Like many we interviewed there, she requested anonymity out of fear for her job.

Whistleblowers at the VA had hoped for more protection when, in 2017, the Trump Administrations created the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. However, critics have said the program works against whistleblowers rather than working to protect them.  In May, general counsel and acting head of the VA James Byrne praised the law at his confirmation hearing.

The situation for whistleblowers at the VA was also the subject of a 2018 Government Accountability Office report that found whistleblowers were ten times more likely than their peers to receive disciplinary action within a year of reporting misconduct. The report also found that VA managers investigated themselves for misconduct.

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The recent arrest of an Australian whistleblower and police raids on journalists’ offices have triggered movement toward stronger whistleblower protection laws in that country.  Another case in the Australian news is a reminder that whistleblowers often give up beloved careers to expose wrongdoing.

In one a recent case, a federal judge was quoted calling Australia’s whistleblower laws “technical, obtuse and intractable.”

From The Guardian:

Transparency campaigners have welcomed attorney general Christian Porter’s announcement that whistleblower protections will be strengthened, while urging him to establish a new whistleblower protection authority, create a compensation scheme and shield a broader range of people.

Porter on Friday flagged his intention to overhaul public sector whistleblower protections, in an attempt to make the system simpler and more accessible to government employees.

More from The New York Times on David William McBride, who is charged with leaking classified military documents to Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalists. McBride admits to leaking documents that led to a story on Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

Continue Reading After charges, police raids, Australia looks to improve whistleblower protections.

Citizens and activists can help stop environmental crime, but they need to know which laws apply, how to collect evidence and when to get a lawyer.

Different approaches to the role of citizens in collecting and reporting evidence of environmental crime were discussed last week by a three panelists at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, DC.

In many cases, there is no meaningful law enforcement to stop environmental crimes. That’s where citizens can come in.

By understanding how to collect evidence and navigate whistleblower programs, anyone can help enforce environmental laws. Anyone includes, NGO staff, those impacted by crime or insiders, such as cruise ship crews.

John Kostyack, director of National Whistleblower Center, talked about a range of existing federal laws with provisions that reward citizens who come forward with credible information about environmental crime.  Shaun Goho of the environmental law clinic at Harvard Law School talked about how the courts are likely to interpret evidence and expert testimony. Stevie Lewis of the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science said the EPA has been slow to act on the recommendations in a 2016 report on promoting citizen science. But, her group hasn’t.

Kostyack started his talk with a slide of a small, endangered porpoise known as the vaquita, according to a video of the event.

“It’s really a fitting symbol of what we’re up against,” he said. “The forces that are driving this beautiful animal to extinction in its home in the Gulf of California are the same forces that are driving much of the environmental devastation around the world and those are the forces of crime.”

Continue Reading Citizens impacted by environmental crime can help stop it. But, they need support and protection.

A guest post from new environmental video network   

By Tadzio Mac Gregor Schneider

The WaterBear Network (“WBN”)  is an interactive video on-demand platform dedicated to the planet. The WBN is built on three primary pillars: Watch, Join, and Save.

The network will be going live in 2020. Join our growing community to enjoy and engage with the ultimate worldwide environmental initiatives.

WBN members will be inspired by documentaries, series, short videos.They will join a fast-growing global community through our advanced interactive platform, and be able to take action to help save the planet by participating in and contributing to local and global initiatives.

Our mission is to connect, inform and empower individuals, companies and other organizations across the world to take actions that will have a positive impact on our planet.

Continue Reading Watch, Join, and Save: WaterBear Network aims to inspire wildlife whistleblowers

Whistleblower programs are “an important check on a firm’s compliance,” according to a survey of nearly 200 “financial services executives.”

The survey, conducted annually by the consultants at the firm Duff & Phelps, is designed to provide “a view into how firms are grappling with the constant of regulatory compliance against a backdrop of continual change.” In addition to whistleblower efforts, the study looks at anti-money laundering programs and new technology coming online for compliance and enforcement programs.

A summary reports that nearly three-quarters of respondents confirm that they have whistleblowing programs in place and 86 percent of them “at least somewhat agreeing that such programs should be mandatory.” Between one-quarter and one-third of firms feel the programs are firms are either “very” or “completely” effective.

At the same time, some are less confident in individual elements of the programs. More than one-quarter of the respondents describe their firms’ ability to evaluate the complaint and to “implement an appropriate response” to a whistleblower to be “not-at-all” effective or “somewhat” effective.   Continue Reading Survey: Whistleblower programs aid financial compliance, but some efforts fall short

Nearly half of 14,000 federal employees surveyed said they had witnessed or experienced a prohibited personnel practice while on the job in 2016, including rules protecting whistleblowers.

The percentage of employees aware of violations jumped to 46 percent in 2016 from 34 percent in 2010, according to a new report from the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The report notes that perceptions of reprisal for whistleblowing nearly doubled between 2010 and 2016, from 8.1 percent to 14.3.

The report notes: “Employees need to believe that they can safely disclose wrongdoing, and this is less likely to occur if they believe they have seen others experience retaliation for it, or if they feel that disclosures they made in the past led to retaliation by agency officials.”

Continue Reading Growing number of federal employees report increase in discrimination and whistleblower reprisals

Tuesday is the deadline to register for the Thursday, June 13 webinar on the role of citizens in enforcing environmental law. From the Environmental Law Institute:

Click here to register for the webinar: Collecting evidence of environmental crime

Around the world, significant progress has been made to establish legal frameworks for environmental protection. Many of these laws can help to put a stop to pollution or conserve natural resources in the United States, as well as foreign countries and international waters. However, the success of these laws is greatly hindered by a lack of enforcement.

Oftentimes, everyday citizens have evidence of environmental wrongdoing, or could easily collect it, but lack the know how to report such evidence to the authorities, or otherwise follow up on required procedures.

Continue Reading Webinar for wildlife whistleblowers: Collecting evidence of environmental crime

Maya Efrati head shot
Maya Efrati

By Maya Efrati

In a show of bicameral bipartisanship, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have introduced bills to declare July 30th, 2019 as National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. The Senate has passed similar resolutions each year since 2013; the House introduced a resolution in 2018. Whistleblower advocates hope to see both the Senate and the House pass these resolutions in 2019, forming a clear call from Congress for celebrating whistleblowers.

The resolution traces the importance of whistleblowers back to before the passage of Bill of Rights, when “10 sailors and marines blew the whistle on fraud and misconduct that was harmful to the United States.” In fact, it was the Continental Congress that passed America’s first whistleblower law during the height of the American Revolution on July 30th, 1778. In the centuries since, whistleblowers have proven to be a crucial component to fighting crime, fraud, corruption, and other criminal behaviors. Our system of accountability relies on brave individuals stepping forward with the truth. And whistleblowers have brought in billions of dollars to U.S. government coffers as well.

Continue Reading House and Senate Introduce Resolutions Declaring National Whistleblower Appreciation Day