Employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs will tell lawmakers Wednesday that the agency’s Philadelphia office is rife with mismanagement and retaliation against whistleblowers.
In prepared testimony obtained by The Washington Times, the workers will tell the House Committee on Veterans Affairs that management in Philadelphia looks the other way and/or even encourages bullying and a hostile work environment.
One of the whistleblowers, Diana Blender, will tell lawmakers that she has been subjected to “harassment, belittlement and discrimination” after she brought problems to light.
“When I unearthed the true happenings of this department and their gross unjust manipulations of others, I was sent on a journey of daily abuse, mental cruelty, emotional torture and undeserved corrective job actions,” she will say, according to her prepared testimony.
A VA Inspector General’s report last week found that the Philadelphia office, one of the agency’s largest, engaged in widespread falsifying of dates on veterans’ benefits claims, overpaid benefits due to duplicate records, and also lost mail. The office serves more than 825,000 veterans and their families in three states.
The report, and the congressional inquiry about problems in Philadelphia, come on the heels of the VA scandal last year in which veterans waiting for health care were put on phony wait lists.
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Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, tapped by President Obama to clean up the agency, has said he encourages whistleblowers to come forward. But there are persistent reports nationwide of retaliation against those employees.
Also, the inspector general and Congress are investigating the agency’s $288,000 “relocation” payment to transfer Diana Rubens from the VA’s headquarters in Washington to run the Philadelphia office last year.
Joseph Malizia, president of the American Federation of Government Employees local in Philadelphia, will tell lawmakers that managers engage in “bullying” of employees and that one such worker, a veteran, was found dead at his home after undergoing the hostile work environment.
“It is unknown to me if this was a suicide or not,” Mr. Malizia will say, according to his prepared testimony. “I have not and am not stating that this employee’s death was directly caused by his treatment at the Philadelphia [regional office]. My complaint to Director Rubens was that this situation is another example illustrating that there is definitely is a pattern of problems in the Philadelphia [office] that needs to be stopped.”