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VA may have targeted whistleblowers

Jun. 5, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki Addresses Home
Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resigned in May as an unfolding scandal enveloped the department. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

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The Veterans Affairs Department may have retaliated against employees who blew the whistle on improper scheduling practices and other patient issues, according to the U.S. Office of Special Council (OSC).

The OSC is currently investigating allegations that the Veterans Affairs Department retaliated against 37 agency employees across facilities in 19 states the OSC said in an announcement.

Widespread reports of falsified wait lists and improper scheduling practices has sparked an inspector general investigation, the resignation of VA secretary Eric Shinseki and a flurry of legislation that would make it easier to fire senior management and reform the VA health care system.

The OSC recently blocked disciplinary actions taken against three VA employees after they disclosed wrongdoing. At OSC’s request, the VA agreed to indefinitely postpone disciplinary action until the OSC investigation is completed.

“OSC appreciates the VA’s cooperation in providing interim relief to these employees,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner in a statement. “Receiving candid information about harmful practices from employees will be critical to the VA’s efforts to identify problems and find solutions. However, employees will not come forward if they fear retaliation.”

In one case a VA employee received a seven-day suspension after telling the VA inspector general about improper scheduling procedures at the VA. The employee claims the agency lowered the employee’s performance evaluation and reassigned the employee after speaking to the inspector general.

OSC is also investigating 49 allegations related to improper scheduling practices and other potential patient safety issue at VA facilities.

Only 59 percent of employees at the VA believe they can report violations of law and policy without fear of reprisal, according to the most recent Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

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