Veterans Administration ‘Ignored’ Its Own Staff Complaints
The Veterans Affairs Department has repeatedly ignored whistleblower claims and failed to discipline employees for wrongdoing, and that’s preventing feds from stepping forward when they see misconduct at the agency, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner wrote in a letter to the White House.
The letter came ahead of a Sept. 22 Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, which examined VA’s response to whistleblower disclosures.
Lerner, who heads up the Office of Special Counsel, outlines several cases, including that of Katherine Mitchell, a VA doctor who blew the whistle on numerous problems at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Mitchell claimed that the Phoenix medical center had no nurses in its emergency department appropriately trained in medical triage. She also said Phoenix medical center nursing supervisors required untrained nurses to triage emergency department patients, resulting in at least 110 cases where patients experienced dangerous delays in care.
The concerns were raised by Mitchell in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2014 after VA’s Office of Medical Inspector found that the lapses were a significant risk to the health and safety of veterans, that the Phoenix VAMC initiated a program to train its nurses and improve staffing, Lerner writes in the letter.
Fixing the problem wasn’t the only thing the VA should have done, she says. The agency should have also held accountable the employees who caused the risks to veterans, according to the letter.
“Despite the confirmed threat to patient safety and the failure to act for five years, the VA has not taken disciplinary action against responsible officials,” Lerner says.
By failing to investigate whistleblower complaints and punish employees for misconduct, the VA is doing more than just ignoring employee wrongdoing.
“The failure to take appropriate disciplinary action, when presented with clear evidence of misconduct, can undermine accountability, impede progress and discourage whistleblowers from coming forward,” Lerner says in the letter.