The V.A. scandals just keep coming
The Department of Veterans Affairs was a cesspool of corruption and outright incompentence during the Obama administration. One might think that things would have changed at the VA when its problems were brought to light -- even more so with the new Administration's promise to clean up the department.
A double board certified physician and Yale University fellow, Klein said the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) took away his patients and privileges almost a year ago after, he alleges, he blew the whistle on secret wait-lists and wait-time manipulation at the V.A. in Poplar Bluff, Mo., as well as his suspicion that some veterans were reselling their prescriptions on the black market.
When his superiors did nothing, Klein went to the inspector general.
“Immediately after the V.A. found out I made these disclosures, I started to get retaliated against,” Klein said.
Klein was initially placed on administrative leave. The Missouri-V.A. closed his pain management clinic and tried to terminate him. According to court documents, the V.A. tried to fire Klein “not based on substandard care or lack of clinical competence” but instead for “consistent acceleration of trivial matters through his chain of command.”
“I do not consider secret wait-lists and manipulations of wait times to be trivial matters,” Klein said.
The Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative agency in Washington, D.C., made it clear that since the doctor was a whistleblower, he could not be fired. But Klein said the retaliation continued and believes his superiors stripped him of his duties to silence him.
Klein is still on the payroll -- making $250,000 per year. But the VA insists he be punished for telling the inspector general -- who is supposed to protect whistleblowers -- about serious problems at his facility.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson intervened, sending a letter to the VA's acting secretary asking the department to cease all retaliatory actions against Klein.
“It has quite honestly been shocking to somebody like me who comes from the private sector, the pervasiveness of retaliation even though we have 100 years of laws against retaliating against whistleblowers in government,” Johnson said.
Johnson is now trying to pass a whistleblower protection bill to help V.A. employees like Smothers and Klein.
A spokesperson from the V.A. said due to on-going investigations, the V.A. cannot comment on specific cases but added the department recognizes the importance of all employees, to include whistleblowers, who identify problems that impede the optimal delivery of care and services to Veterans.
Klein said he hopes the V.A., under the Trump administration, will make substantial changes so veterans can get quality care they need and so those who uncover problems or wrongdoing – and report it – are protected.
Government agencies have long sought to silence whistleblowers. No agency likes to have its problems -- even if they threaten life and limb, as at the VA -- made public.
But Johnson is absolutely right. There is a string of laws, court cases, congressional hearings, investigative reports, and so on making it abundantly clear that the VA's behavior in these cases isn't just wrong, but illegal.
The President says he wants to drain the DC swamp. Installing industrial strength pumps at the VA would be an excellent start.