Whistleblowers claim culture of retaliation persists at VA

A recent report from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) shows that whistleblowers still face retaliation when reporting wrongdoing at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It has been almost three years since a whistleblower revealed that hundreds of veterans died while awaiting appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital.

Now, whistleblowers allege little has changed since the 2014 scandal. Several VA employees have come forward accusing the agency of retaliating against them for speaking out about alleged shortcomings at various facilities across the country.

Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez, a scheduling manager at the Phoenix VA, alerted the Inspector General about more than 200 patients dying while waiting for medical procedures like dialysis and mental health screenings at the facility. He reported there are still thousands of veterans awaiting appointments and that the same problems persist at the hospital.

Rodriguez claimed the VA retaliated against him by subjecting him to surveillance, harassment, difficult work tasks and criticism for not solving the VA’s scheduling problems himself. As a result, he sought protection from the OSC.

Rodriguez is one of around 50 whistleblowers in the past few years who have complained about dirty facilities, long wait times and substandard care at VA hospitals. Many of them reported experiencing retaliation from their supervisors or hospital directors. This occurred even though federal laws bar the harassment of employees who report wrongdoing.

Such behavior does not promote a positive work environment within the VA and fails to nurture a culture of transparency and accountability. The VA should ensure whistleblowers are treated fairly. All employees, from front-line staff through top managers, should feel safe sharing what they know for the benefit of veterans.