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POGO Letter to VA Secretary Prompts Congressional Action

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Arizona’s delegation to the House of Representatives is calling for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to investigate the allegation that the newly appointed interim director of the VA’s Southwest Health Care Network based in Arizona retaliated against a whistleblower in California.

Last week, the Project On Government Oversight reported that Elizabeth Joyce Freeman, then-director of the Palo Alto VA Health Care System, took administrative action against Stuart Kallio, an inpatient pharmacy technician supervisor.

Kallio had reported concerns about pharmacy operations up the chain of command to then-director Freeman. He alleged veterans had been suffering from “unconscionable errors and delays” in the delivery of medications. Kallio accused Freeman of unlawfully retaliating against him. She subsequently placed him on administrative leave.

As first reported by The Arizona Republic, the Representatives from Arizona—five Democrats and four Republicans—wrote a letter on July 25 to Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson seeking “a thorough and impartial investigation into these allegations.”

Citing POGO’s letter, the lawmakers wrote: “If the allegations are substantiated, we urge you to take appropriate action to hold responsible individuals accountable, and to appoint leadership who will be part of the solution to the VA’s whistleblower retaliation and health care delivery problems.”

POGO found a culture of fear and retaliation at the VA that discouraged employees from trying to raise concerns or fix problems. Kallio experienced this kind of culture first hand. A VA manager accused him of “Inappropriate Conduct” and he was ultimately suspended for two weeks for sending allegedly disrespectful correspondence. He was also ordered by the chief of the Palo Alto pharmacy service not to speak out about “this matter,” POGO reported last week.

The actions against Kallio and the expansion of Freeman’s responsibilities appear directly at odds with a message Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson sent to VA employees on June 13 saying he would not tolerate intimidation or retaliation against “any employee who raises a hand to identify a legitimate problem, make a suggestion, or report what may be a violation of law, policy, or our core values.”

Freeman did not comment for POGO’s report last week, but, in an interview with POGO on July 29, she stated, “I welcome any investigation. I welcome any suggestions for improvement on how I can provide the kind of environment that all of those thousands of people work in support of veterans find it’s the kind of environment where they can raise their hand, they can make suggestions, and those suggestions will be acted upon to improve the health, welfare, and the well-being of our veterans that we serve.”

Freeman generally declined to answer questions about Kallio, citing employee privacy, but she did say that his case may need to be re-evaluated due to a new investigative process established in the past few months. “I will say that we followed our procedures and did a thorough investigation,” she said. “It may need to be re-investigated due to the initiation of these new procedures.”

A spokesman for Representative Matt Salmon (R-AZ) said those responsible for retaliation at the VA should be held accountable. “It’s abhorrent that individuals attempting to bring light and scrutiny to circumstances inside a VA administration that has and continues to fail our veterans are punished for their efforts to protect our vets,” said spokesman Tristan Daedalus. “At the administrative level, these veterans need support and compassion, now more than ever. If someone is standing in the way of those goals and seeking to shirk oversight and keep further revelations of the mishandling of claims quiet, they should not be directing any segment of this agency.”

POGO has received allegations of VA wrongdoing from around 800 people located in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

Image by Flickr user Digital Magic Photography.

By: Lydia Dennett
Investigator, POGO

lydia dennett Lydia Dennett is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Lydia handles whistleblower intake and works on nuclear safety and security at the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Topics: Whistleblower Protections

Related Content: Veterans Affairs, Congressional Oversight

Authors: Lydia Dennett

Submitted by dlst at: August 9, 2014
I was one of those VA employees that attempted to bring to light problems within our VA in Little Rock. When I attempted to follow the chain of command, I was told I was the one with a problem and to keep my mouth shut. When I tried to go over heads, that only backfired when the person I went to in HR, turned around and contacted my Director. This was one of the people that I had a problem with. There was a lot of favoritism being shown and I was then singled out, bogus write ups were made and my pristine character was soiled. Since I was a first line supervisor, I could not be represented by AFGE. These two people turned our department upside down and into a micromanaged cesspool. Once they found out that I had filed an EEOC complaint, they did everything they could to make my life a living hell! At one time, I loved my job and I always enjoyed taking care of our veterans, but I am sorry to say this is not an isolated event. I know of several wonderful VA employees that were "run off" by these corrupt, unprofessional jerks that still hold their jobs at the VA. I have been gone now for a couple of years and it's taken a long time to heal from being the brunt of a witch hunt and treated like a liar. Sadly, I am not surprised to see the continuation of problems within the VA system. Until something is done revamp the whole system, problems will continue. It's going to take a major overhaul and getting rid of most of upper and executive mgmt would be a good start. HR needs a whole new way of doing business.
Submitted by Poppac at: August 9, 2014
Good for Kallio and other gutsy VA employees who speak up on behalf of veteran patients. But I am curious about the disposition of tens of thousands of similar cases that have been filed over the years. At a minimum, they would seem to contain a wealth of information about wrongdoers in the VA who help perpetuate this dishonest system. These cases seem to languish, then die in that "Bermuda Triangle" of agencies (I.e. OSC/MSPB/EEO ). It is hard to take anyone serious about veteran abuse and neglect when these agencies are allowed to NOT do what they are supposed to do.
Submitted by biobob60 at: August 9, 2014
Veterans had been suffering from “unconscionable errors and delays” in the delivery of medications. It happens in St. Louis, Mo., John Cochran Medical facility, freaquently.
Submitted by Anonymous at: August 9, 2014
If I wouldn't pay my taxes the IRS would garnish my wages, and endanger my job. Yet we keep paying these contractors again and again w/o regard to their tax status. Is that fair?
Submitted by Alphawolf at: July 31, 2014
It is amazing (Disgusting) how VA Management bounded by VA Regulations, VHA Handbooks, “LAW” swiftly fabricate bogus charges against bargaining unit “Whistleblowing Employees” victims of systemic corruption and in some circumstances, “get away with it”!! Many quietly and with faith await for JUSTICE with something WE would like to see in the media; such as “DOJ or US Attorney decides to file charges against officials” who violated whistleblowers civil rights while attempting to cover up felonious acts in the process!! The problem with this agency lies with the FACT it has been plagued since the late 90's with: selective promotion practices based on favoritism, quid pro quo, and corruption. Many of the personnel afforded upward mobility are excellent "Text Book" examples of the Peter Principle! Through the years upper executive and middle executive management officials were completely transitioned into either Medical/Executive field NON-VETERAN, or NON-Military experienced individuals! Many of these individuals don't give a hoot for veterans; they care for themselves, personal interests, immediate family members and friends! They fiercely retaliate against whistleblowers that have the courage to disclose the rampant mismanagement and corruption and by the time the "Perps" are finally adjudicated, the whistleblower most of whom are also VETERANS are fighting for his/her job/home/livelihoods through a bureaucrat MSPB/EEOC System. Many of these whistleblowers have saved many veteran lives and this agency millions in property as VA Employees, but are treated like trash by the corruption!!!!

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