Whistleblowers at VA Hospitals Nationwide Band Together to Urge Systemic Change

Our malpractice attorneys in Seattle report that whistleblowers at VA hospitals nationwide have banded together to urge systemic changes amidst treatment delay scandal.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been embroiled in scandal since last summer, when long delays for treatment and a cover-up of those delays at some facilities came to light. The whistleblowers who brought the scandal to the attention of the public, the VA, and Congress have come together to fight for change in the entire VA system, despite facing retaliation and other scrutiny.

The whistleblowers, who call themselves the “VA Truth Tellers,” are pushing hard for the VA to improve patient care, fix problems in the agency, and protect the whistleblowers, according to a recent USA Today article.

The group, which consists of about two dozen former and current VA employees from medical centers in 10 states, has its own Facebook page and an email group, which serves as a source of support for members who are trying to effect change in the VA.

Group members blew the whistle on manipulated patient wait times and mismanaged care of suicidal veterans in Phoenix; secret appointment wait lists in Shreveport, La.; misconduct in Montgomery and Tuskegee, Ala.; and subpar veteran care in Wilmington, Del., according to the USA Today article.

The newspaper reported the whistleblowers group says changes put in place in the past year, including a new law meant to overhaul the system and give veterans more timely access to care, haven’t done much to fix the agency’s dysfunction, despite the VA’s claims that many facilities have new leadership.

Change isn’t coming fast enough for the whistleblowers, who told USA Today that many of the people who caused the problems or ignored them are still in management positions at the VA.

“Until the VA starts terminating the bad actors, everything else is just fluff around the edges and accomplishes nothing,” Ryan Honl said in the USA Today article. Honl exposed dangerous drug prescriptions in Tomah, Wis.

In fact, VA patients in Washington are still facing lengthy waits for medical care, according to the Associated Press.

In the USA Today article, the whistleblowers said they have faced retaliation for bringing wrongdoing to light, which discourages other potential whistleblowers from coming forward. Whistleblowers are supposed to be protected from retaliation by superiors. They claim VA managers have started investigations into whistleblowers, confiscated their computers, and reassigned them to lesser jobs.

The VA told USA Today that supervisors have received training on whistleblower protection, but the whistleblower group says that isn’t enough and is calling for change in the VA’s inspector general’s office, saying the current leadership has conducted substandard investigations and targeted whistleblowers.

The Washington Post reported whistleblowers said they were demoted, moved into sub-par office space such as basements and storage rooms, and faced investigations into their mental health and personal lives. Those retaliating against the whistleblowers rarely faced punishment, they said.

The article told the story of Dr. Christian Head, who reported patient wait time cover-ups at the VA’s Greater Los Angeles VA Health Care System. He told Congress he was moved to a dirty, closet-sized office and nearly turned away from an operating room while his patient was under anesthesia.

“Isolate. Then defame. Moving me to a storage bin makes me feel bad, but they are sending a message. They are trying to suppress [whistleblowers’] willingness to try to make a better life for these veterans,” Dr. Head told the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, the newspaper reported.

At Morrow Kidman Tinker Macey-Cushman, PLLC, we have recovered compensation for military veterans and their families in cases concerning delayed and mismanaged care by VA providers. We are experienced in navigating the system for bringing medical malpractice claims against the VA, and will work to bring justice for our clients. If you are concerned about delays or errors in your VA care, do not hesitate to call us or contact us using our online form.