Whistleblower & Qui Tam Blog

28
June 2019

Culture of Retaliation Continues to Plague Department of Veterans Affairs

Three employees of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) testified before Congress on Tuesday, June 25, after bringing the wrongful treatment of patients to light. VA whistleblowers Katherine Mitchell, Jeffrey Dettbarn, and Minu Aghveli spoke in front of the House Veteran’s Affair Committee about the silencing tactics used by the VA to keep them in the dark about shortcomings in care at the workplace and the retaliation they faced for exposing the violations. 

The three whistleblowers, who work at Phoenix, Iowa City, and Baltimore VA locations respectively, said they were threatened to be relieved of their duties after speaking out about malpractice in their office. 

Aghveli said she received notice on Monday, June 24, that she would be terminated, a day before she was set to testify in front of Congress about the culture of retaliation at the VA. 

In 2017, President Trump signed legislation in the “VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017” that created an office to look into claims made by VA whistleblowers and to protect them from retaliation. 

However, two years later, VA employees complain that the legislation in place has not helped change the fear of retaliation that prevents many employees from speaking out about sub-par treatment for veterans. 

Violations reported by VA whistleblowers include the improper removal of patients from opioid-addiction treatment wait lists, mass-cancellation of diagnostic test orders, and improper waitlists that resulted in allegations that patients died at the Phoenix location while waiting for care.  

Katherine Mitchell, who works at the Phoenix location, was one of the first whistleblowers to report manipulated waitlists in 2014, according to ABC News. She says she faced retaliation ever since and admits it isn’t easy for employees concerned with patients’ safety to come forward with their information to higher-ups. 

“It has nothing to do with who’s in the president’s office or who controls Congress,” Mitchell said. “This is a malignant leadership culture that will outlast us all unless someone has the courage to break rank in leadership and finally change it.”

Learn about how Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto has worked to end retaliation in the workplace

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About the Whistleblower Blog

The Whistleblower Blog is an editorially independent news and information source, sponsored by a pro bono public service project by Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, LLP. The blog highlights important news, legal developments and policy issues critical to whistleblowers and their advocates, both in the United States and internationally. The contributors to this blog are respected leaders in their fields, including the authors of key whistleblower law books, current and former legal professors, spokespersons before Congressional committees and other public bodies, directors of non-profit whistleblower advocacy groups, and prominent attorneys specializing in representing/assisting whistleblowers in the United States and throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.