Whistleblowers Testify that VA Retaliation Remains Rampant

Whistleblowers within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) testified before Congress that retaliation against whistleblowers continues to pervade the agency long after Congress passed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. Whistleblower and whistleblower rights groups raised concerns regarding the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) created under the law.

Three VA whistleblowers testified to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on continued retaliation they faced due to their statements regarding illegal and corrupt activity within the agency.

Dr. Minu Aghevli, the former coordinator for opioid treatment programs at the VA Maryland Health Care System, testified that her clinical privileges were revoked in April after she reported new concerns about veterans’ care. Over the last five years she has blown the whistle on improper wait list practices in local hospitals, including falsifying data about veterans’ appointments.

Dr. Aghevli notified her supervisors of her intent to testify before Congress several weeks ago and received a notification of her removal just a day before appearing before Congress. Dr. Aghevli testified that she believed the notice of removal was a result of her decision to testify.

Whistleblower protection groups such as Whistleblowers of America, the Project on Government Oversight, and the Government Accountability Project also testified about continued whistleblower reprisal at the agency.

Jackie Garrick, founder of Whistleblowers of America, noted that a lack of independence plagues the OAWP office. Garrick said the office “has caused more of them more harm because it is plagued with deficiencies related to timeliness, unfair processes and inadequate staffing.”

Government Accountability Project legal director Tom Devine also noted that while the Office of Special Counsel attempts to handle whistleblower claims, and does so better than most agencies, it lacks the resources to adequately address reprisal issues.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie released a letter to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano criticizing the existence of a hearing on VA whistleblowers without a department representative present.

Wilkie noted in the letter, “When the committee holds a hearing to air criticisms of the Department, while simultaneously preventing the Department from participating to offer context and defend itself, the Committee’s efforts risk appearing more like a political press conference than a hearing aimed at a balanced look at serious issues.”

Subcommittee Chairman Chris Pappas (D-NH) agreed to keep the hearing in recess until VA officials could testify.

 

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