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VA promises protections for whistleblowers

The ongoing revelations of the events at many Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals involving the scheduling delays for veterans seeking health care services has left many employees of the VA positioned as whistleblowers. This has created a new set of problems for the VA and for those employees.

Within any business or bureaucracy, there is always a hierarchy of management. It appears at the VA that some managers attempted to manipulate the scheduling system to eliminate delays in scheduling by creating "off the books" tracking. Lower level employees were instructed by their managers to use this process, and many merely followed instructions.

Some employees of the VA recognized that this was wrong, and attempted to point this out to their superiors. For some, their reward was punishment and disciplinarily proceedings. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has indicated that it is investigating 37 employees who have alleged they were subjected to retaliation as a result of whistleblowing activity.

This investigation by the OSC prompted the VA's acting secretary to issue a statement that issues raised by line employees are important to the VA's function and that whistleblowers are entitled to protection from retaliation.

For employees of any federal agency, whistleblowing is an inherently risky activity. If an employee observes wrongdoing by managers, those managers may have a strong interest in punishing the employee for violation their "best practices," even if those practices are illegal or questionable.

VA whistleblowers can report issues to the VA's Office of Inspector General, the OSC, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and Congress. If you need to report questionable activity, you may want to discuss your facts with an employment attorney, as your career and job could be at risk, and an attorney can advise you of how to best proceed.

Source: The Washington Post, "Acting VA secretary promises protections for agency whistleblowers," Josh Hicks, June 13, 2014

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