Lawmakers plan bills on VA whistleblower protection

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Lawmakers said Tuesday night that they planned to introduce legislation to better protect VA whistleblowers after hearing from employees who faced consequences at work for reporting instances of bad patient care.

Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, invited other members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee to help him draft legislation to improve protections for those who come forward with problems at the Veterans Affairs Department.

The committee chairman said whistleblowers are a vital part of the department to provide a reality check and that the VA needs to start listening to and responding to their reports.

“They understand that metrics and measurements mean nothing without personal responsibility,” the committee chairman said at a night hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “Unlike their supervisors, these whistleblowers have put the interests of veterans above their own interests.”

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona Democrat, also said she planned to introduce legislation later this week that would let employees go above their supervisor to avoid retaliation when reporting neglect.

“Employees and patients should be able to report wrong doing directly to the office of the VA secretary,” she said. “The office will investigate complaints of whistleblower retaliation and ensure whistleblower’s rights are protected.”

VA employees testified before the committee about how they had lost out on pay, been removed from their positions, and feared for their jobs after speaking up about issues at four facilities across the country.

An Office of Special Counsel letter last month found that the VA not only ignored whistleblower reports, often not taking them seriously or doing anything to fix them, but also retaliated against those who raised issues.

The VA has been under close scrutiny since earlier this year when a whistleblower revealed that at least 40 veterans died at a Phoenix VA facility while awaiting care on a secret wait list, meant to make wait times look shorter to secure large financial bonuses.

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