Top conservative presses VA on allegations of retaliation against employees protecting whistleblowers

Top conservative presses VA on allegations of retaliation against employees protecting whistleblowers
© Greg Nash

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) on Monday raised concerns over allegations of wrongdoing and retaliation against employees working to protect whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

In a letter sent to VA Secretary Robert WilkieRobert Leon WilkieThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems seize on Ukraine transcript in impeachment fight The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Association of Manufacturers - The impeachment of President Trump has begun Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Impeachment inquiry overshadows Trump at UN | Veterans push VA to follow through on reforms | Iranian leader open to changes in nuke deal MORE, the incoming House Freedom Caucus chairman said he was approached by two high-profile employees in the agency's Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) alleging they have been the victims of retaliatory acts.

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“My office was recently approached by Mr. Brandon Coleman and Ms. Michelle Hubbard, the Whistleblower Program Specialists at the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) with concerns of wrongdoing at OAWP, as well as allegations of further whistleblower retaliation against them and other OAWP employees for raising issues of concern plaguing OAWP,” Biggs wrote.

“Mr. Coleman and Ms. Hubbard suffered professionally and personally for their previous efforts at pointing out wrongdoing within the VA," he added. "Now they find themselves in the same situation for opposing evisceration of the very program established to prevent retaliation against whistleblowers.”

The letter follows allegations earlier this year about retaliation against whistleblowers. Three VA employees said in interviews with USA Today that they were sidelined at their jobs and stripped of responsibilities after they drew attention to improper treatment of patients.

According to Monday's letter to Wilkie, Biggs was informed that both Coleman and Hubbard were told to stop their casework helping to protect whistleblowers at the agency.

“Despite impressive track records of success, they are now facing threats of possible demotions through an internal reorganization that would structurally eliminate their current roles,” Biggs added. “The VA’s threats of demotions and loss of duties is evidence of the retaliatory nature of OAWP’s actions.”

He requested Wilkie detail what steps the VA is taking to “ensure independence” from the agency’s Office of General Counsel and how it is complying with a statutory provision that requires the agency to train VA employees on whistleblower disclosures.

Biggs requested answers to those questions by Oct. 7.

“The litany of reduced duties imposed upon Mr. Coleman and Ms. Hubbard, along with the animus demonstrated by OAWP’s outright dismissal of their pleas for participation in the development and delivery of the mission-critical education, training, and outreach programs indicate a disparate treatment and retaliatory motivation that should not be business-as-usual at a whistleblower protection agency,” Biggs wrote.