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VA whistleblowers tell lawmakers of charge retaliation

By Carolyn Freundlich, Medill News Service   |   July 10, 2014 at 1:07 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, July 10 (UPI) --There were more troubling accusations Tuesday involving Department of Veteran Affairs' medical facilities. Four whistleblowers cataloged their experiences during a rare nighttime meeting of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

"I have suffered retaliation for years for routinely reporting health and safety concerns," said Dr. Katherine L. Mitchell, former medical director Phoenix VA Health Care. "My written testimony details some of the retaliation and the devastating effects on patient care."

Effects like severely understaffed emergency rooms that could not keep up with the "dangerous flood of patients," Mitchell said. "That strokes, heart attacks, internal head bleeding and other serious medical problems were missed by staffers."

Mitchell said her complaints went ignored while she was reprimanded, transferred and suspended.

Fellow witness Scott Davis, a program specialist at VA National Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta, said he was placed on involuntary leave after reporting officials were wasting millions of dollars.

"My employment records were illegally altered," Davis said.

Lawmakers asked what could be done to change a cover-up culture at the VA.

"If nothing else please make sure we move to a system that has more data integrity," Davis said. "Require the people that come here and sit on these panels to sign off on the information they turn in to Congress, this way when they come back they can't say that report was done by somebody else."

Davis also said more protections are needed to ensure whistleblowers are l not intimidated about coming forward with information. Their testimony came as a the Justice Department's Office of Special Counsel said it was examining more than 50 whistleblower complaints.

"In order to make sure there is follow through at VA, I've asked my staff to develop legislation to improve whistleblower protections for VA employees," said Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., "and I invite all the members of this committee to work with us for the end."

Tuesday's session was the first of what could be several hearings as information about the VA's missteps continues to surface.

Topics: Scott Davis
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