Employees of VA hospitals testifed before a Senate committee looking into the scandal at many facilities and made it clear that there are still problems plaguing the department, not the least of which is whistleblower retaliation.
Appearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, Dr. Katherine Mitchell testified that VA officials have a “vested interest in suppressing negative information” and that those who choose to speak out are in dire need of further protections.
The VA’s Office of Inspector General (IOG), Stevens said, “does not maintain whistleblower confidentiality, allows VA facilities to investigate themselves, does not conduct thorough investigations and whitewashes its reports.”
Mitchell said the IOG’s shortcomings left her “incredibly disappointed to the point of being horrified.”
The quality of medical service provided at VA facilities has been under a microscope since Mitchell and other staff members in Phoenix stepped forward to complain about inadequate care last year. An inspector general’s report released after the objections were raised uncovered evidence that 40 patients died while awaiting care in Phoenix, where employees kept a secret list of patients who faced prolonged delays in receiving necessary treatment. Those VA workers are thought to have concealed those wait times in an effort to enhance the facility’s performance.
Subsequent probes discovered similar problems at other VA medical facilities that serve almost 9 million veterans. The revelations led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in May 2014.