Reform at the VA? Think Again, Say 'Horrified' Whistleblowers

Mitchell and other whistleblowers maintain the inspector general’s office has proved more likely to hassle those who report wrongdoing within the VA than it is to pursue senior officials.

Dr. Lisa M. Nee, who served as a physician in a VA medical facility near Chicago, said she “never experienced such overt disinterest in quality patient care, deliberately organized retribution towards exceptional employees and blatant disregard for universal guidelines, as well as our country’s laws, until I encountered leadership at the Hines VA in Illinois.”

Nee said “exposure to the corruption” occurred almost immediately after she assumed her duties – there was a year-long backlog of unread cardiac ultrasounds kept in boxes that she was expected to sort through.

“My shock turned to horror as I realized many of the veterans had suffered cardiac complications or already died after the study was performed, but prior to it being interpreted,” she said.

Leadership at the facility, she said, “was not only aware but also complicit with the cover-up.”

Through all this, Nee said she discovered that the OIG “has a penchant for accelerating retaliation against the truth-teller while failing the veterans by either ignoring the initial complaint or engaging in a cover-up.”

Nee also said she has been “on the receiving end” of retaliatory action from both the leadership at the Himes facility and the OIG, including “defamatory remarks made to the public regarding my integrity.”

VA Deputy Inspector General Linda Halliday, who assumed the post earlier July after the abrupt retirement of Richard Griffin, the target of much of the whistleblower criticism, said steps are underway to improve services in Phoenix and at other VA facilities.

The VA, she said, is requiring enhanced staff training for protecting whistleblowers. But she also defended actions taken by her office in the past, maintaining that at times whistleblowers “are not in a position to know all the facts, or they overemphasize the viewpoint.”

Halliday further stated that the OIG instigated probes into the backgrounds of whistleblowers to make sure “that all the bases are covered.”

Regardless, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the subcommittee chairman, wasn’t satisfied with the manner in which the VA is handling protection of whistleblowers.

"Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Nee expose a dark side of the VA that should have no place in our veteran's healthcare,” Kirk said. “The American people will not stand to have our heroes treated as second-class citizens, receiving substandard care.”

As a result, Kirk announced that he is launching a whistleblower hotline for veterans and VA employees to report misconduct and poor care at local hospitals.