Rep. Lujan Grisham Inquiry Leads To GAO Investigation On Veterans Administration Whistleblowers

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham
WASHINGTON, D.C. Thursday, July 19, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a nationwide report on its investigation of employee misconduct and whistleblower retaliation at the Veterans Administration (VA).  
This investigation was co-requested by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM-01) and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO-6) March 23, 2015, after receiving numerous complaints from veterans, employees and families about VA misconduct and whistleblower retaliation at the Albuquerque VA Hospital.
The GAO reviewed a representative sample of 544 misconduct cases from 2009-2015 and examined a non-generalizable sample of whistleblower disclosures from 2010-2014. This report specifically brings light to problematic staff and a culture that that allows for whistleblower retaliation, which negatively impacts employee morale, and in turn, veteran services.
Rep. Lujan Grisham released the following statement in reaction to the release of the GAO Report:
“The findings from this investigation are beyond disturbing and reflect complaints from VA employees, veterans, and their loved ones that I have received for years regarding the Albuquerque VA Hospital.  It describes an agency in crisis that has failed to protect whistleblowers and hold senior VA officials accountable for misconduct, jeopardizing veteran health and well-being. The VA should cultivate a culture of trust and openness, and empower employees to report waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct.  Instead, it is clear that the VA has had a culture of fear which punishes those who have the courage to speak up.”
“That type of turmoil is completely unacceptable for an agency tasked with managing the federal government’s most solemn and important responsibilities: taking care of the brave men and women who were injured or traumatized defending our nation. I am hopeful that the newly created VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection can help resolve some of these issues, but I believe much more needs to be done.
“The DOJ should immediately establish a federal monitor to oversee the misconduct adjudication process—for the benefit of both whistleblowers and those accused.  Further, this national emergency requires the establishment of a Blue Ribbon Commission—similar to what was implemented after 9/11—in order to improve how the VA manages allegations, protects whistleblowers, and addresses waste, fraud, and abuse.
“Supporting our veterans is not a partisan issue and I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that these brave men and women receive the quality health care and services they have earned.”
Employee misconduct at VA’s medical facilities can have serious consequences for veterans. The GAO looked at how VA deals with employee misconduct and found several opportunities for improvement. For example:
  • Whistleblowers were 10 times more likely than their peers to receive disciplinary action within a year of reporting misconduct.
  • 66 percent of individuals who filed formal complaints did not work for the VA the following year.
  • VA doesn’t always maintain required files and documents for adjudication, suggesting that employees may not have received due process.
  • VA officials found guilty of misconduct sometimes received a lesser punishment than recommended or no punishment.
A summary of the GAO report can be found here.
The full GAO report can be found here.
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