Sunday, December 10, 2017
News Roundup

Watchdog agency says retaliation complaints jump at VA

WASHINGTON — A federal investigative agency is examining 67 claims of retaliation by supervisors at the Department of Veterans Affairs against employees who filed whistle-blower complaints — including 25 complaints filed since June 1, after a growing scandal involving long patient waits and falsified records at VA hospitals and clinics became public.

The independent Office of Special Counsel said 30 of the complaints about retaliation have passed the initial review stage and were being further investigated for corrective action and possible discipline against VA supervisors and other executives. The complaints were filed in 28 states at 45 facilities, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said.

Lerner provided the figures in testimony prepared for a Tuesday night hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The Associated Press obtained copies of her testimony and other witnesses in advance.

Lerner said her office has been able to block disciplinary actions against several VA employees who reported wrongdoing, including one who reported a possible crime at a VA facility in New York.

The counsel's office also reversed a suspension for a VA employee in Hawaii who reported seeing an elderly patient being improperly restrained in a wheelchair. The whistle-blower was granted full back pay and an unspecified monetary award and the official who retaliated against the worker was suspended, Lerner said.

In a related development, the VA said it was restructuring its Office of Medical Inspector after a report by Lerner's agency last month saying the office played down whistle-blower complaints.

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