WASHINGTON, June 6 (UPI) -- A federal agency is investigating claims that Veterans Affairs officials illegally retaliated against 37 whistleblowers who exposed the wait-time scandal that led to former-Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation.
According to the Office of Special Counsel, a federal investigation agency primarily tasked with protecting government whistleblowers, it has received complaints from VA employees in 28 locations in 18 states claiming managers are taking administrative action against employees who exposed poor record-keeping and patient management at VA hospitals.
"The frequency with which VA employees are filing these complaints is one of the highest levels in the federal government," said OSC spokesman Nick Schwellenbach.
Employees complained of being demoted, placed on suspension and hostile working conditions.
"In one case, the OSC requested and obtained a stay of a proposed 30-day suspension without pay for a VA employee who reported the inappropriate and continuous use of patient restraints in violation of VA rules and procedures," alleges the OSC.
"Employees should not fear for their jobs, their pay or their performance evaluations when it comes to speaking up for the rights of VA patients," national VA Council president Alma Lee told the Washington Post. "They are the eyes and ears on the ground and are best equipped to recognize when policies, procedures and initiatives are not carried out at the highest level."
Whistleblower advocate Sen. Chuck Grassley praised the OSC on Thursday saying in a statement, "Whistleblowers are usually at the heart of exposing a major scandal. They ought to be celebrated, not punished, for acting in the public interest."