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VA Whistleblowers Recount Retaliation for Voicing Concerns

Dr. Mathews

Dr. Jose Mathews, Former Chief of Psychiatry at the St. Louis VA Health Care System, testified before Congress about the retaliation he experienced after he blew the whistle.

Last night, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs heard from whistleblowers about what Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Florida) called the “organizational cesspool” of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Four whistleblowers from across the country told the committee they had experienced harsh retaliation from superiors after they voiced concerns about the effectiveness and quality of health care for veterans. Retaliation included being placed on administrative leave, demoted and even docked pay.

Much of the testimony supported similar stories whistleblowers have told the Project On Government Oversight. POGO and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America launched VAOversight.org in May as a secure channel for whistleblowers to report VA abuses. Since then, more than 800 people have contacted POGO through the website.

The House hearing, “VA Whistleblowers: Exposing Inadequate Service Provided to Veterans and Ensuring Appropriate Accountability,” began with testimony from Dr. Jose Mathews, M.D., the former chief of Psychiatry at the St. Louis VA Health Care System. Mathews said that after discovering and reporting problems in his department, including that psychiatrists working under him were only seeing an average of six patients for a total of 3.5 hours per day during a full 8-hour work day, he was placed on administrative leave and moved to another VA location. He was in the process of implementing a real-time satisfaction survey for his patients that he hoped to use to improve care when he was removed from his position.

Mathews told the committee that if he had one wish for the department, it would be “data integrity.” The familiar phrase popularized by Mark Twain, “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” was referenced by two whistleblowers -- Mathews and Katharine Mitchell, a medical director in the Phoenix VA Health Care System -- to emphasize that statistical information from the VA is unreliable. Mathews however edited it to, “lies, damned lies, and VA statistics.”

Mitchell was moved from her position as head of a Phoenix emergency room to a social care center after her name was leaked to supervisors as the person who had contacted the VA Inspector General about inefficiencies. She says she has no idea who leaked her name and to her knowledge no investigation has been made to discover that information.

A similarly disheartening tale of whistleblower retaliation came from Dr. Christian Head, M.D., who works at the Greater Los Angeles VA. After testifying about co-workers falsifying time sheets, he says he was publicly ridiculed by his peers and labeled “a rat,” lost two weeks’ pay, and was transferred within the system. The VA Inspector General found that the co-worker Head testified against was guilty and recommended she be fired. But years later she remains in the same position, according to the testimony.

Retaliatory, anti-whistleblower culture is “a cancer to the VA,” Head said. “Most physicians and nurses and employees are disgusted and morale is very low… A few individuals perpetuate this idea that we should be silent…To be able to work for the veterans without fear of retaliation would be a great gift.”

The whistleblowers said that they continue work at the VA because they want to help veterans.

"As much as you love the veterans, the administration wears you down," Mitchell said, "and you begin to question your own professional abilities."

The panelists agreed that any VA employee who is found to have taken retaliatory action against another should be fired, but as Rep. Mark Takano (D-California) pointed out, that could in turn make it easier for supervisors to fire whistleblowers.  The inherent conflict is an example of the systemic, structural problems that plague the VA and make finding a solution so challenging. Chairman Miller said his office is currently working on legislation to protect VA whistleblowers.

By: Avery Kleinman
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Avery Kleinman Avery Kleinman is the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Whistleblower Protections

Related Content: Veterans Affairs

Authors: Avery Kleinman

Submitted by Isaac Decatur at: July 23, 2014
The Department of Veterans Affairs and EEOC failed to enforce Subpart E-Remedies and Enforcement, 1614.501 Remedies and relief.(a) When an agency, or the Commission, in an individual case of discrimination. finds that an applicant or an employee has been discriminated against, the agency shall provide full relief which shall include the following elements in appropriate circumstances : 1.Notification to all employees of the agency in the affected facility of their right to be free of unlawful discrimination, and assurance that the particular types of discrimination found will not recur; (2) Commitment that corrective curative or preventive action will be taken, or measures adopted to ensure other violations of the law similar to those found will not recur: (5). Commitment that the agency shall cease from engaging in the specific unlawful employment practice found in this case. The discriminatory practices of the Department of Veterans Affairs, New Orleans, Louisiana of Ms. Jeannette Butler, and Ms. Holliday did not cease it continued. Case and point: Ralph Saunders v. Dept. of VA EEOC NO. 270-2004-0019X, C/W 270-2004-00117X, BENCH DECISION FEB. 18, 2005 AND FINAL AGENCY DECISION JULY 19, 2005. Rendered in Mr. Saunders favor. the same retaliation happened to me Isaac Decatur several months later. The same RMO Ms. Jeanette Butler, Isaac Decatur v. Secretary, Veterans Affairs Agency, Eric Shinseki, EEOC Appeal No. 0120073404. Ms. Butler, the woman who approved the blacklist and Ms. Holliday the woman who prepared the blacklist. This information went to EEOC OFO DIRECTORS: Carlton Hadden, OFO, Todd Cox, OCLA, OEDCA, Directors, Charles Delobe, former Director, And present Director, Maxanne Witkin, Assistance General Counsel, Deborah McCallum, and others. Intentionally Failure To Enforce Federally EEO Laws on all named individuals named above. U.S EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, WASHINGTON, DC. 20507. MAY 13, 2011 Dear Mr. Decatur: This is in response to your correspondence dated April 8, 2011, to President Obama concerning your dissatisfaction with the manner in Which the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) executed compliance with the decision on our appeal wherein we found that the VA had discriminated against you. The President has asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)to respond directly to you. The Order in your case consists of two types of remedies action: curative action designed to make you whole and compensate you for losses and damages; The curative actions, with the exception of the compensatory damages appeal docketed as EEOC Appeal Number 0120073404, have been addressed. Sincerely, Todd Cox, Director Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs. CC:WH-0420201120. To this day Department of VA and the EEOC failed to make me whole. 3 years after the letter from Mr. Cox, and cc: to the WHITE HOUSE
Submitted by Isaac Decatur at: July 22, 2014
A proven pattern of corruption and conspiracy at The Department of Veterans Affairs and The EEOC, OFO: Department Of Veterans Affairs Assistance Secretary For Human Resources And Administration Washington, DC 20420 The Honorable Richard Burr United States Senator 2000 West First Street, Suite 508 Winston-Salem, NC 27104 Dear Senator Burr: This is in response to your inquiry on behalf of Mr. Isaac Decatur, JR..an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. As you know, Mr. Decatur contacted you requesting your assistance with his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)appeals numbered 0120083021 and 0120073404. While we were able to provide some insight into the progress of Mr. Decatur's appeals with EEOC in the past, the concerns he raises in his letter cannot be addressed by VA, since they are specifically pertaining to Mr. Carlton Hadden, Director, EEOC, Office of Field Operations. However, in an effort to assist with an update, I asked the Department's Office of Resolution Management (ORM) to review the circumstances and provide an overview. As indicated in our letter to you dated March 25, 2010 on September 9, 2009, EEOC rendered a decision finding no discrimination for appeal number 0120083021. Mr. Decatur requested reconsideration of that appeal and it was denied by the EEOC on December 10, 2009. As part of that decision, Mr. Decatur was notified of his right to file a civil action within 90 days of his receipt of the decision. Based on the inquiry conducted by ORM, Mr. Decatur did not file a civil action. ORM's records also show that as it relates to EEOC appeal number 0120073404, in which Mr. Decatur prevailed, a compensatory damages investigation was conducted and completed on June 23, 2010. Upon completion of the investigation a report was submitted to the Department's Office of Employment Discrimination Complaint Adjudication (OEDCA) for a final decision. Upon completion of their review OEDCA will notify, Mr Decatur in writing of their final determination. I appreciate the opportunity to assist you. Jf you need additional information, please have a staff member contact Ms. Lillette Turner-Nelson . Chief Policy and Compliance for Resolution Management at (202) 501-2680 Sincerely, John U. SEPULVEDA all parties aware that I was put on a black list to be terminated for my prior EEO activity. To this day OEDCA AND EEOC OFO refuses to make me whole as the EEO Federal law states they must do.
Submitted by Isaac Decatur at: July 16, 2014
A clear pattern of cover-up by the Department of Veterans Affairs & EEOC OFO. The agency and EEOC OFO Director, Carlton Hadden, refuses to enforce Federal EEO laws. Case and point. Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Health Administration Washington, DC. 20420 APR 7, 2010 Dear Mr. Porter: The Veterans Health Administration, Workforce Management and Consulting Office, Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Employment Team in Washington, DC, has received your compliant against the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System in New Orleans, LA. This office enforces agency policy prohibiting discrimination in Federally conducted programs and activities based on race, color, national origin, age, sex, disability, and reprisal. I have reviewed the information you have provided and determined that you will need to contact the Office of Resolution Management (ORM) Central Plains Operations, in Houston, TX. The ORM Regional Office can provide you information, regarding your EEO employment related concerns. For your convenience, I am providing you with the ORM Central Plains Operations mailing address and telephone number: Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Resolution Management (08N) Central Plains Operations 2002 Holcombe Boulevard, Building 110 Houston, TX 77030 (713) 794-7721 Thank you for bringing these matters to our attention. Sincerely, Joleen M. Clark, MBA, FACHE, Chief Workforce Management and Consulting Officer. for Joleen M. Clark, D. Rogers. VHA DIRECTIVE 2009-057 PROHIBITING RETALIATION OR REPRISAL AGAINS EMPLOYEES. The Directive, Workforce Management Responsibility: Consulting Office EEO/AFFIRMATIVE (10A2E) IS RESPONSIBLE FOR CONTENTS OF THE DIRECTIVE 2004-033 DATED JULY 18. DECK CLEARLY STACKED AGAINST BLACK LISTED INDIVIDUALS. INTENTIONALLY FAILURE TO ENFORCE FEDERAL EEO LAW. By the entire EEO system.
Submitted by caf311 at: July 12, 2014
Retaliation happens against veterans who voice their concerns that are not employees of the department as well. So who stands up for the veterans and care givers who file their complaints and VA directors, doctors and staff members attempt to defame and deny services and benefits?
Submitted by Unintended whistleblower at: July 12, 2014
The witnesses of the VA Whistleblowers Hearing said repeatedly the "VA management culture of cover up" is so imbedded in the VA, it cannot be trusted with the responsibility for investigations. Employees of the VA know this, it is required to keep most silent. The issues and situations we are forced to overlook is astounding, so when we finally do make a stand, it is something we feel really matters. Something we cannot look the other way on, or it will kill our souls. The numbers I read state of the 100 who will start a complaint, only 10 will actually do so formally when they are initially "pushed back" by management processes. Of the remaining 10 only 1 will be strong enough to survive and be strong enough to see the process through. This is America? What this is doing to the employees of the VA aside, this is the organizational culture Congress has entrusted the health and safety of our Veterans? When I hear the acronym for our VA executives of SES, I have learned the mental connection I have made to another acronym that is very similar: the SS. A group of bright, capable leaders did unbelievable wrong and justified it in their minds as necessary and for-the-good-of-all. Congress must put a stop to this rouge agency now. They have the power to... and they must!
Submitted by Sandstorm2003 at: July 12, 2014
The ASPEN Point system is one of the tools for cooking the books used by VA management and must be stopped! Take away the tools they are using to steal the funding intended for veterans, and you take away the scam..........since they are scammers and see this as a way to beat the system veterans and congress should expect that they will try and do it no matter the changes! The VA cannot and should not be tasked with enforcement of itself! You ain't robbing Peter to pay Paul no more Toto! TAKE BACK THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION!
Submitted by Isaac Decatur at: July 11, 2014
More corruption and conspiracy being exposed at the EEOC OFO and the Department of Veterans Affairs Agency. Intentionally Failure To Enforce Federal EEO laws. Evidence proves what I'm saying is true. Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Health Administration Washington, DC 20420 VHA DIRECTIVE 2009-057 PROHIBITING RETALIATION OR REPRISAL AGAINST EMPLOYEES 1. PURPOSE: The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Directive issues policy prohibiting retaliation or reprisal against individuals who file an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint of discrimination, who participate in the investigation of an EEO complaint, or who otherwise oppose discrimination. 2. BACKGROUND: a. Pursuant to Public Law 105-114 dated November 21, 1997, the Director of the Office of Employment Discrimination Complaint Adjudication (OEDCA) is required to notify the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, or the Deputy Secretary, whenever the Director of OEDCA has reason to believe that there has been retaliation or reprisal because of involvement in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) EEO discrimination complaint process. Retaliation and/or reprisal is a flagrant form of unlawful employment discrimination that creates a harmful and threatening atmosphere undermining the integrity of the employer-employee relationship. EEO laws prohibit retaliation or reprisal by an employer, employment agency, or other organization because an individual has engaged in protected activity. Protected activity consists of opposing a practice made unlawful by one of the EEO laws, filing a complaint, testifying, assisting, or participating in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under the applicable law. b. VHA does no tolerate retaliation or reprisal against any employee who makes a complaint of discrimination on basic of race, sex, national origin, age, disability, religion, or other protected status. An employee who provides testimony in the investigation of such complaint is protected from any retaliatory action, harassment, or abusive behavior, as in an employee who oppose unlawful discrimination. 3. POLICY; It is VHA policy that VHA managers are responsible for ensuring that employees are provided with a working environment that s free from retaliation or reprisal. 4. ACTION: VHA Senior Executives, Chief Officers, and Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) Directors are responsible for: a. Pursuing necessary follow-up action when the Director, OEDCA, issues a final agency decision finding retaliation for EEO activity, b. Taking corrective action and appropriate disciplinary action immediately in all cases where there has been a finding of retaliation or reprisal. c. Ensuring follow-up action is taken when the Director, OEDCA, receives an appellate decision by the EEO Commission. d. Ensuring any action taken by the individual under their supervision is in full compliance with EEO laws, and with the spirit and intent of Administration and Department policy, as well as other applicable Federal regulations. 6. FOLLOW-UP RESPONSIBILITY; The Directive, Workforce Management and Consulting Office EEO/AFFIRMATIVE Employment Team (10A2E), is responsible for the contents of this Directive, Questions may be addressed to 202-461-7287
Submitted by Isaac Decatur at: July 10, 2014
We the blacklisted individuals were Railroaded by the entire EEO system. The affidavit went all the way to federal court and they covered it up. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA Isaac Decatur v. Department of Veterans Affairs Agency, Civil Action, Number 04-1440"A"(2). Judge Zainey, & Magistrate Wilkinson. Case 2:05-cv-01440-JCZ-JCW Filed 06/28/ 2005. Morsie Porter v. Department of Veterans Affairs Agency, Case 2:05-cv-00262-SS Filed 04/03/2007. HUNT AFFIDAVIT Porter submitted the affidavit of Al Hunt, III with his opposition. Rec. doc. 38, Ex, 2 at pp.1-5 Hunt's affidavit is dated November 10,2004. It was submitted in connection with the complaint of Ralph Saunders before the EEOC. Hunt began working at the VA Hospital as a supervisor in November 2003. He reported to Holliday for about six months until she transferred to human resources in April 2004. Holliday was replaced by Ms. Cosy. Both Holliday and Cosy reported to Butler. In October 2004, or less than a year after his arrival Hunt resigned. In May 2004. he filed an EEO complaint against Butler for discrimination. Rec. doc. 38, Ex. 2 at pp. 1-5. Hunt testified that SAUNDERS AND Isaac Decatur WERE PLACED ON HIS TEAM "FROM A LIST PREPARED BY Ms. Holliday after approval by Ms. Butler that I later learned were a black list" Rec. doc. 38, Ex. 2 at p.1. The affidavit asserts that the black list was Butler's list. In addition to Saunders and Decatur, Hunt reports that Porter and three others, two men and one woman, were on the black list.These persons were black listed because they filed EEO complaints against Butler and she wanted the supervisors to work to get rid of them. Rec. doc. 38, Ex. 2 at p.2 Most of the affidavit addresses issues concerning Saunders. Hunt states Butler, Holliday and Cosy abused the rules and wrongfully retaliated against their subordinates. Rec. Ex. 38, Ex. 2 at. pp.3-4. page 20 of 20. SALLY SHUSHAN, United States Magistrate JUDGE. INTENTIONALLY FAILURE TO ENFORCE FEDERAL EEO LAWS BY THE ENTIRE SYSTEM. IS THIS JUSTICE IN AMERICA? LADY JUSTICE IT'S TIME TO OPEN YOUR EYES,
Submitted by Isaac Decatur at: July 9, 2014
It is Very very disturbing to Mr. Isaac Decatur, Mr. Morsie Porter, Mr. Ralph Saunders, Mr. Willie Savone, Mr. Warner Robinson, Ms. Julia Slater, & Mr. Al Hunt, III the man who EXPOSED the blacklist. We all feel that the system did nothing but covered-up the blacklist. Ms. Cassandra Holliday, the woman who created the blacklist and Ms. Jeannette Butler, The Service Line Manager, at the New Orleans, Louisiana Veterans Affairs approved the blacklist. The Department of Veterans Affairs Agency, allowed the mistreatment of our nation VETERANS to continue by the EEOC OFO & VA. Case and point: Ralph Saunders, Complainant, v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs Agency, EEOC NO. 270-2004-0019X, C/W 270-2004-00117X, Agency NO. 200L-0529-2003-101-173, C/W 200L-0629-2003-104-390, & 200L-0629-2004-101-651. Date November 10, 2004. AL HUNT, III EXHIBIT NO.1 O. BOUDOIN, CCR AFFIDAVIT OF AL HUNT, III Ralph Saunders, Favorable bench decision on Feb. 18, 2005 by Administrative Law Judge, Christopher Jude, New Orleans District Office. Ralph Saunders, Complainant, v. Department of Veterans Affairs Agency, VA CASE NO. 200L-0629-2004-100828. FINAL AGENCY DECISION. Favorable decision render by Director OEDCA, Charles Delobe, July 19,2005. Both decision for prior EEO activity. Reprisal and Retaliation. Mr. Delobe put in the record bottom of page 12 the following: We also note the evidence that the retaliated against other employees who filed EEO complaints. Very very troubling to the blacklisted employees and veterans. Bottom of page 18. in the record the following: Pursuant to 29 C.F.R. Section 1614.501(a)(5). the agency will commit to the Complainant in writing that it will cease from engaging in the unlawful employment practice found in this case, namely, reprisal for prior EEO activity, that it will not engage in similar unlawful employment practices, that it will provide the complainant a work place free from hostility, offensive conduct or abuse, and that no reprisal will be taken. The agency violated this EEO federal law a few months after Mr. Saunders won his two upper cases. Isaac Decatur, v. Secretary, Eric K. Shinseki, VA. VA CASE NO. 200L-0629-2005103156, EEOC Appeal No. 0120073404. Decision render to Mr. Decatur, By EEOC OFO Director Carlton Hadden, Sept.25, 2009. Agency & EEOC failure to enforce VHA DIRECTIVE 2009-057. PROHIBITING RETALIATION OR REPRISAL AGAINST EMPLOYEES. 4. action a. Pursuing necessary follow-up action when Director, OEDCA, issues a final agency decision finding retaliation for EEO activity b. Taking corrective action and appropriate disciplinary action immediately in all cases where there has been retaliation a finding of retaliation or reprisal. Federal EEO Law clearly violated. INTENTALLY FAILURE TO ENFORCE FEDERAL EEO LAWS. By the Department of Veterans Affairs Agency, & the EEOC OFO. Jeanette Butler was the RMO in all three of the above cases. The EEO entire system failed to protect all of the blacklisted individuals. Is this the way AMERICA treats it's VETERANS. All needs to be investigated immediately. Doing nothing is not an option PERIOD. POGO we need an immediately investigation of all named parties involved. We are entitle to equal justice under the law.
Submitted by JC at: July 9, 2014
This type retaliation has been going on within the federal government for many years. And until Congress enacts stiff laws to punish supervisors and co-works who take action against Whistleblower the retaliation will continue. Instead of punishment most supervisors who take action against Whistleblowers actually get promotions and outstanding recognition. Such actions make Whistleblowers begin to doubt they actually did the right thing by taking a stand against the fraud, waste or abuse they had witnessed.

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