VA settles with more whistleblowers as investigators promise better training

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which handles allegations of retaliation against federal employees, has announced that three Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) whistleblowers will be reinstated to their jobs with clean records and financial settlements.

One whistleblower, Troy Thompson, was reassigned to janitorial work and investigated for theft allegations after reporting an insect infestation in a Philadelphia VA hospital's kitchen, while another, Joseph Colon Christensen, was fired after notifying VA headquarters that the director of several Puerto Rico and Virgin Island medical centers had been arrested. The third, Ryan Honl, was locked out of his office in Tomah, Wisconsin, after reporting excessive opiate prescriptions given to vets.

Employees have come forth with similar stories across the country since a scandal broke last year that revealed the Phoenix VA fabricated wait times and used a secret waitlist to cover up the care delays, the Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, employees at the Detroit VA allege the hospital fired at least one whistleblower, according to CBS Detroit. "During my time here I was reporting patient abuse and neglect with other nurses and nursing assistants," Darlene Nolan, a licensed practice nurse, told the station.

Last week, acting VA Inspector General Linda A. Halliday announced an increased commitment to fully train all employees of the IG's office in federal whistleblower protection laws. "Whistleblowers are the lifeline of OIG organizations, and I am committed to protect their identities, understand their concerns, objectively seek the truth, and pursue accountability and corrective action," she told FedWeek in a statement.

Despite assurances from VA leaders that the agency would end retaliatory practices, the OSC received 111 reprisal cases since Robert McDonald became VA secretary last July. The agency announced 25 whistleblower settlements in January, one of which involved a threat to fire a registered nurse for "lack of collegiality" after she complained a superior failed to report a patient's rape accusation against a staff member in a timely fashion. Last month several VA whistleblowers established a support group to hasten reforms within the system and the removal of higher-ups they say are responsible for the problems.

To learn more:
- here's the OSC announcement (.pdf)
- see the VA IG statement (.pdf)
- read the Post article
- here's the CBS article
- check out the FedWeek article