VA whistle-blower protection office 'floundered in its mission,' watchdog says

By Danielle Haynes
The Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general said the office to protect whistle-blowers failed to investigate complaints thoroughly. File Photo courtesy Department of Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general said the office to protect whistle-blowers failed to investigate complaints thoroughly. File Photo courtesy Department of Veterans Affairs

Oct. 24 (UPI) -- The Veterans Affairs whistle-blower protection office has "floundered in its mission" to properly investigate complaints and assist those who come forward with them since its creation two years ago, an inspector general report released Thursday said.

The watchdog said the Office of Accountability and Whistle-blower Protection failed to "consistently conduct investigations that were procedurally sound, accurate, thorough and unbiased."


In addition to improper investigations, the report said the staff often failed to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation by senior managers about whom they lodged complaints.

President Donald Trump created the office with an executive order in June 2017, following through on a campaign promise to overhaul the VA. The department came under scrutiny under the Obama administration for excessive wait times to be seen by VA doctors. Whistle-blowers inside the department exposed the scandal.

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"For many years the government failed to keep its promises to our veterans. We all remember the nightmare that veterans suffered during the VA scandals that were exposed a few years ago. Veterans were put on secret wait lists, given the wrong medication, given the bad treatments and ignored in moments of crisis for them. Many veterans died waiting for a simple doctor's appointment. What happened was a national disgrace," Trump said at the time.


"And yet, some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls. Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today, we are finally changing those laws ... to make sure that the scandal of what we suffered so recently never, ever happens again."

The inspector general said the office misinterpreted its mandate by investigating matters it should not have and too narrowly interpreting the scope of what it should have been investigating. The office investigated possible felony criminal matters instead of referring them to law enforcement as required by law, the report said.

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"In its first two years of operation, the OAWP acted in ways that were inconsistent with its statutory authority while it simultaneously floundered in its mission to protect whistle-blowers," the inspector general report said.

"Even recognizing that organizing the operations of any new office is challenging, OAWP leaders made avoidable mistakes early in its development that created an office culture that was sometimes alienating to the very individuals it was meant to protect."

In one instance, the report said it found evidence that a senior VA official who had a social connection to the office's executive director requested an investigation into a whistle-blower who previously filed a complaint against the senior official. The office followed through with a probe into the whistle-blower and substantiated the allegations without speaking to the whistle-blower.


The VA said the inspector general report fails to take into consideration the improvements made in the department under the Trump administration.

"VA's institutional approach to accountability is completely different than that of past administrations, and the VA Accountability and Whistle-blower Protection Act of 2017 has been a key factor in that culture change," Christina Mandreucci, a VA spokeswoman, told the Military Times.

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