How bad is it at the Veteran’s Affair’s (VA) Whistleblower Protection Office? Former VA whistleblower Brandon Coleman took a job with the program in 2017. But, instead of helping other whistleblowers, he is now speaking out about the program’s failures. He described the scene there as a “dumpster fire.” After reading Donavan Slack’s ongoing coverage in USA Today of problems for both patients and staff, that sounds like an understatement. He told her:

“We need help,” Coleman said. “How can you treat your employees the exact way we’re trying to protect employees from being treated?”

Complaints about the whistleblower office are piling up and Slack’s reporting has been robust. Her latest story in USA Today offers this:

The onetime addiction counselor and Veterans Affairs whistleblower known for exposing poor care of suicidal veterans at the Phoenix VA hospital has been doing outreach to other VA whistleblowers since 2017 on behalf of President Donald Trump’s whistleblower-protection office

Coleman told USA TODAY he has learned from colleagues in recent weeks that he has been excluded from meetings, his program is being eliminated, and he and dozens of other employees at the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection are being asked to submit resumes and worry they could face possible demotion or worse.

Tamara Bonzanto, VA

She reports that Coleman has asked for help from “another federal agency that protects whistleblowers, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.” Slack based her report on interviews with three other employees who say VA Assistant Secretary Tamara Bonzanto, who is in charge of the program,  has “cut herself off” from employees.
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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.”


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