VA whistleblowers detail shocking retaliation by government officials

Whistleblowers testified before a Congressional committee that they have been victim to retaliation after exposing numerous problems at the VA

(INTELLIHUB) — A culture of retaliation that includes accessing whistleblowers medical information to be used against them is alive and well within the Veterans Affairs Department, according to testimony given before a House Congressional subcommittee Monday.

The committee was called to discuss problems faced by whistleblowers since last years revelations showed widespread issues within the VA system that caused extremely long wait times which ultimately led to the deaths of multiple veterans. Despite promises by new VA Secretary Bob McDonald, not only do the problems remain unfixed, those that revealed the problems have faced extreme retaliation.

A report published by The Blaze’s Pete Kasperowicz documented comments made by Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner:

In Lerner’s prepared testimony, she explained that many VA officials who try to reveal these problems are veterans themselves who are also seeking care at the VA. She said in some cases, VA officials try to retaliate by examining the medical records of these officials, and said this still happens — she called it an “ongoing concern.”

“In several cases, the medical records of whistleblowers have been accessed and information in those records has apparently been used to attempt to discredit the whistleblowers,” she said.

“We will aggressively pursue relief for whistleblowers in these and other cases where the facts and circumstances support corrective action,” she said.

One example of a veteran who believes his medical records were inappropriately accessed is Brandon Coleman, a Marine Corps veteran who sustained injuries to his right foot while he served. Coleman works at the VA system in Phoenix, and told TheBlaze he became a whistleblower after it became clear that someone illegally went into his medical records.

He said after he started publicizing the failures of his own office to properly treat veterans with suicidal tendencies, his own mental health was questioned by his superiors. As of this year, the VA has threatened to reduce his disability rating.

“I feel strongly that this proposal to reduce my benefits is nothing more than an additional retaliation against me because I came forward as a whistleblower,” he wrote in a March letter he gave to TheBlaze.

Richard Tremaine, a whistleblower and associated director of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, detailed harassment he and another whistleblower received after revealing problems last year. Calling claims of improvements within the VA system disingenuous, Tremaine didn’t hold back.

The USA Today reported:

“With disingenuous claims of improvements, there remains an atmosphere of exclusion and retaliation,” Tremaine testified.

He and Meuse initially came to their boss, James Talton, to raise concerns about scheduling manipulation, fraud and inadequate patient care, but “we quickly concluded he would not support our efforts to hold staff accountable,” Tremaine said at Monday’s hearing.

They then took their concerns to regional VA officials, who alerted Talton.

“Immediately after our June 11 confidential disclosures… the severe retaliations from Talton escalated exponentially,” Tremaine said.

He and Meuse said they were investigated and isolated, and their duties were reduced.

The problems at CAVHCS became public after the two provided evidence of wrongdoing to the Advertiser and Rep. Martha Roby, R–Montgomery, who had contacted them seeking more information.

Unfortunately, retaliation against whistleblowers isn’t a local problem at one or two specific VA hospitals, rather it seems to be a problem across the entire country. Military website The Stars and Strips reported that a high level doctor in Los Angeles was subject to extreme harassment that included embarrassment in front of patients.

Dr. Christian Head, who testified in July about wait time manipulation at the VA’s Greater Los Angeles Health Care System, said he has been demoted, embarrassed in front of patients and nearly turned away from an operating room while his patient was under anasthesia, awaiting surgery.

Head says in August he found that the locks had been changed on his office, and he was informed that he had been moved to a “tiny, dirty, poorly furnished closet-sized office” on a different floor.

He said his supervisors have engaged in a continuous effort to undermine him since July, including preventing him from meeting with McDonald when the secretary visited the Los Angeles VA system earlier this year, saying his identification badge was expired.

When he complained of his mistreatment, he told Congressmen Monday, a supervisor told him, “If you don’t like it, you’re a whistleblower, take it to Congress.”

In submitted testimony, Head also detailed instances where he said employees experienced racial and religious discrimination.

“They take the whistleblower and isolate them, then defame them, then push them out,” said Head. “Then they try and go back and rewrite history. They send out their surrogates to suggest that that person is a bad person, not a good doctor.”

For their part, legislators seem fed up with the corrupt actions of top VA officials. “My blood is boiling,” Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice stated.

“This is a disgrace. Why is it that it’s easier to come to the determination that whistleblowers are wrong in a faster way you can say that these retaliators are wrong?”

Additional Sources:

Legislators Sick And Tired Of Easy Answers From The VA On Retaliation – The Daily Caller

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