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A culture of retribution persists at the VA

Three years ago, a scandal regarding over-prescription of medications erupted at a Wisconsin VA hospital about three hours west of Milwaukee. Substandard care for veterans at the Tomah facility was only exposed when a whistleblower bravely stepped forward and pointed out wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, that kind of courage is often frowned upon at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A new report shows that after they report misconduct, whistleblowers in the federal agency are much more likely to be disciplined than other employees.

While millions of veterans receive quality health care at the VA’s more than 1,200 facilities, “they would be better served if the ingrained culture of retribution were remedied,” Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson wrote recently.

He noted that the line that really jumps out of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report is this one: “Whistleblowers were 10 times more likely than their peers to receive disciplinary action within a year of reporting misconduct.”

Davidson also pointed out that the GAO found that sometimes VA managers accused of misconduct investigate themselves – a conflict of interest as big and tall as the U.S. Bank Center.

Though the VA has policies in place to protect whistleblowers, the policies are clearly of little concern to the supervisors in the agency who seek retribution when misconduct is exposed. Even more important than policy, however, is the anti-retaliation clause of the False Claims Act. The clause protects employees and contractors from being “discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed or in any other manner discriminated against” because they reported activities that defraud the federal government.

Another form of whistleblower protection: an employment law attorney experienced in guiding complex False Claims Act cases through the legal system and in handling retaliation claims.

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