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Holding the Government Accountable

Walk the Talk: Acknowledging Whistleblower Retaliation at the VA

The Daily Caller scrutinized recent attempts by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct self-investigations after a worker at the Los Angeles VA hospital was fired after he reported VA vehicles that were unaccounted for and a misuse of official credit cards.

Anthony Salazar was fired four months after he blew the whistle on the mismanagement of the motor pool for the VA hospital. According to The Daily Caller, “he was put on a ‘performance improvement plan,’ told he didn’t meet the goals, then let go.” According to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the VA then blocked Salazar from showing employer retaliation.

The story of Salazar’s on-going plight to claim whistleblower retaliation highlights the VA’s culture of retribution against whistleblowers. The Project On Government Oversight highlighted the improper treatment of VA whistleblowers during our investigation in 2014 analyzing the complaints of nearly a thousand VA whistleblowers.

The Daily Caller cites additional instances where the VA and the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) are unable to conduct effective investigations of misconduct, such as at the Tomah VA Medical Center in Tomah, Wisconsin (which POGO also wrote about). A recent Senate report criticized the prolonged wrongdoing at that facility enabled by an inadequate investigation by the VA OIG.

The Daily Caller concludes that not enough is being done to encourage the reporting of wrongdoing within the VA:

“Punishing people who call attention to problems, instead of those who cause problems, has become such a pronounced pattern at the VA that leaders have made a concerted effort to show that they are turning the ship around.

But since they’ve been projecting that message, the drumbeat of incidents has continued, and it has even paid six-figure awards to managers that it knew to have engaged in whistle-blower retaliation.”

The VA needs to make good on its intentions to curb misconduct. But this case shows it has a long way to go before it solves its perennial problem of mistreating whistleblowers.