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According to a new whistleblower, supervisors at the the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ central office are abusing their power in ways that include physical and verbal intimidation, sexual harassment, and orders to their staff to not cooperate with Congressional investigations of wrongdoing at the federal government entity. Ashleigh Barry of Phoenix’ KPHO/KTVK News reports:
The employee, a U.S. Air Force veteran and information security officer who chose to conceal his identity, took his concerns all the way to the top and yet little to nothing has been done about them….
Case in point, he says, is his direct supervisor, whom he accuses of threatening him because he recently reported problems and even illegal activities within the facility.
“That’s when he grabbed the arm of the chair and he lunged at me and he yelled at me and said, ‘I’m your supervisor. I’m telling you it’s wrong,’ then he ordered me not to report anything without his permission,” the whistleblower explained….
“I have had it put in writing to me that I am not to cooperate with investigators, specifically congressional investigators,” he said. “My personal belief is that they don’t want their dirty laundry exposed.”
Given the nature of the multiple allegations of misconduct, that would be something of an understatement.
There are three things that caught my attention in this story. First, the whistleblower praised the Phoenix VA’s new director, which suggests the problems at that particular branch of the VA are finally starting being addressed more effectively than they have in the past. Given how deep seated those problems are however, it will take considerable time for real progress in reforming the Phoenix VA to be made.
The second thing that caught my attention is the whistleblower’s reported background. As an actual veteran, he is in a real minority working in an administrative position at the VA, because of a clause in the Department’s contract with the American Federation of Government Employees, which gives “first and full consideration” to current employees of the federal government for administrative positions, and not to veterans. The effect of the VA’s hiring policy is to give preference to federal government union employees over veterans for its white collar positions.
The third thing to catch my attention is that the VA’s multiple problems with supervisor misconduct is strongly embedded in the VA’s Central Office. This reported fact confirms that the VA’s corruption scandals in rationing the provision of health care to America’s veterans through phony wait lists and other means is not the result of the rogue misconduct of individual VA employees or branches, but rather is the result of corrupt practices that have become institutionalized throughout the VA.
New leadership at the VA’s top leadership positions is the correct place to begin to remedy that situation, but fully remedying the VA’s ethical ailments will require a large scale flushing throughout its managerial ranks. Displacing the current occupants of many of these supervisory positions at the VA with actual veterans who have a real stake in the VA’s provision of health care to veterans could go a long way toward fixing what is clearly an institutional problem at the VA.
To be effective, more progress in that area needs to be made much more quickly than is currently being made, or else risk losing the little progress that has been made by corrupt supervisors outlasting the reformers. The new VA whistleblower’s story is a reminder of both how extensive the VA’s problems remain and how much bad wood needs to be cleared out before true accountability at the VA can be established.