House bill aims to shield VA whistleblowers

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) wants to better protect whistleblowers in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He’s introduced the Veterans Affairs Retaliation Act of 2015, which would establish a new system for employees to report retaliatory actions that have been taken against them. The legislation would require supervisors to report those claims to facility directors, eliminating the ability for supervisors to deny knowledge or responsibility for their actions.

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The bill also establishes mandatory disciplinary penalties for employees who retaliate against whistleblowers: a 14-day minimum suspension for the first offense and removal for the second offense. The legislation also establishes a mandatory whistleblower protection training program for all VA employees.

“Even though Secretary [Robert] McDonald says VA will not tolerate retaliation against whistleblowers, the fact remains the department still has much more work to do when it comes to fully addressing this issue,” Miller said in a statement. 

“This problem went unchecked at VA for years, and it would be naïve to think it would simply vanish upon the appointment of a new secretary and in the absence of the thorough housecleaning the department so desperately needs.”

The VA is still trying to recover from the wait time scandal that rocked the agency last year. And more recently, there have been reports of retaliatory practices and rampant overmedication at the VA Medical Center in Tomah, Wis.

“So many opioids were prescribed that some veterans were referring to the center as ‘Candy Land,’ ” the Journal Sentinel reported.

The committee is upset that the department hid a report from the VA Office of the Inspector General that pointed to the alarming number of narcotic prescriptions coming from the facility.

“Though Secretary McDonald and other VA leaders have said protecting whistleblowers is important, they must also ensure the department moves swiftly to fire any employees who have engaged in whistleblower retaliation,” Miller said. “That hasn’t happened yet and this bill will give VA leaders more tools to ensure that it does.”