Three employees of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) testified before Congress on Tuesday, June 25, after bringing the wrongful treatment of patients to light. VA whistleblowers Katherine Mitchell, Jeffrey Dettbarn, and Minu Aghveli spoke in front of the House Veteran’s Affair Committee about the silencing tactics used by the VA to keep them in the dark about shortcomings in care at the workplace and the retaliation they faced for exposing the violations.
The three whistleblowers, who work at Phoenix, Iowa City, and Baltimore VA locations respectively, said they were threatened to be relieved of their duties after speaking out about malpractice in their office.
Aghveli said she received notice on Monday, June 24, that she would be terminated, a day before she was set to testify in front of Congress about the culture of retaliation at the VA.
In 2017, President Trump signed legislation in the “VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017” that created an office to look into claims made by VA whistleblowers and to protect them from retaliation.
However, two years later, VA employees complain that the legislation in place has not helped change the fear of retaliation that prevents many employees from speaking out about sub-par treatment for veterans.
Violations reported by VA whistleblowers include the improper removal of patients from opioid-addiction treatment wait lists, mass-cancellation of diagnostic test orders, and improper waitlists that resulted in allegations that patients died at the Phoenix location while waiting for care.
Katherine Mitchell, who works at the Phoenix location, was one of the first whistleblowers to report manipulated waitlists in 2014, according to ABC News. She says she faced retaliation ever since and admits it isn’t easy for employees concerned with patients’ safety to come forward with their information to higher-ups.
“It has nothing to do with who’s in the president’s office or who controls Congress,” Mitchell said. “This is a malignant leadership culture that will outlast us all unless someone has the courage to break rank in leadership and finally change it.”
Learn about how Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto has worked to end retaliation in the workplace