The Department of Veterans Affairs is reaching out to whistleblowers for a meeting on the challenges they’ve faced when exposing wrongdoing at their facilities, following the establishment of an office to protect whistleblowers.
Whistleblowers Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez from the Phoenix VA and Sean Higgins from the Memphis VA have been contacted by the Central Whistleblower Office for a conference call meeting Friday, which comes just over a week after President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating a new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the VA, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.
The purpose of the meeting, according to a Central Whistleblower Office employee, is to get an understanding from the perspective of whistleblowers about how the current disclosure process works and the various “roadblocks” whistleblowers may have faced along the way. The meeting will take place with Harvey Johnson, deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Resolution Management, as well as the implementation team on staff.
VA Secretary David Shulkin has pledged to fight hard against whistleblower retaliation and advocate accountability reforms, which means this meeting is not altogether surprising. For Shulkin, the creation of the new whistleblower office is the first step of the way.
And certainly, both Rodriguez and Higgins have faced their fair share of pushback, following disclosures about untoward activities at their respective facilities.
Higgins currently reports to a small office at the Memphis VA. He has no duties. He’s blown the whistle more than 30 times since 2014, and even more before that date. Some of the issues have included poorly cleaned dialysis machines, fraud, paralyzed vets ignored by hospital staff, the ever familiar allegations of manipulated waitlists, and also long wait times.
He was fired in 2008 but reinstated after he successfully argued discrimination played a factor in his termination. He was fired again in 2014. A year later, the Merit Systems Protection Board reinstated him after the VA tried to claim he created a hostile work environment.
Rodriguez is currently facing the possibility of a punishment that could result in reprimand or removal because of violating privacy standards in the course of his disclosures of incredibly long appointment wait times at the Phoenix VA.
“Just reporting someone’s name shouldn’t be secret—we are government employees,” Rodriguez told Fox News. “They are trying to twist anything they can to punish me.”
The Daily Caller News Foundation exclusively reported on Rodriguez’s allegations regarding mass appointment cancellations and long wait times at the Phoenix VA in March. Although officials at the facility have repeatedly pledged to revamp facility practices, according to Rodriguez, the problems have simply spiraled out of control.
Moreover, at the time, the VA stated it could not fix issues it was unaware of, despite the fact that internal emails revealed that Rodriguez did contact leadership with his concerns.
The VA did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Caller News Foundation.
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