Wednesday, September 23, 2015

VA officials used medical records to smear whistleblowers

By Tori Richards

Veterans Affairs officials illegally accessed whistleblower medical records to engage in a smear campaign aimed at covering up fatally lax medical care, according to testimony today at a U.S. Senate committee.

In a rare show of solidarity, Republicans and Democrats showed anger and distress during the testimony of witnesses Carolyn Clancy, the VA’s chief medical officer, and Deputy Inspector General Linda Halliday. That testimony followed whistleblowers who testified that VA officials tried to bully them into silence after reporting wrongdoing. Their detractors continue to work in the VA.

Both Clancy and Halliday said retaliation against whistleblowers is unacceptable.

“I was upset coming in here. And I’m becoming more upset,” said Chairman Ron Johnson, R-WI, of the committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

Johnson became emotional while reading from an April 2015 Inspector General report that was released upon subpoena. It detailed large amounts of marijuana and a scale allegedly found at the home of Chris Kirkpatrick, a VA psychiatrist and whistleblower. Kirkpatrick had reported that VA doctors were overmedicating his patients, including one who had threatened Kirkpatrick’s life. In 2009, following his complaint, the VA fired Kirkpatrick, and the psychiatrist killed himself.

“I want this to sink in. This came from OIG (the Office of Inspector General), who say reprisal is unacceptable,” Johnson said. “That sounds like a reprisal to me – to a dead person. What will the VA do to make good on this? To make up for this reprisal, this reprehensible reprisal?”

Halliday stated that she has only been on the job three months and hadn’t seen the report. She didn’t know who wrote it.

At that point, Johnson shouted: “Who did? Who did this? I want to know every individual involved in writing this report!”

The OIG is tasked with investigating complaints of fraud and abuse. But testimony showed it was complicit in covering up VA mistakes instead of ferreting out wrongdoing. Whistleblower Shea Wilkes testified that he was placed under a criminal investigation by the OIG for accessing a secret wait list at the Shreveport VA Hospital in order to provide evidence that such an event was happening. He talked to 50 other whistleblowers across the nation and found that “100 percent of them have had their medical records accessed” to fabricate reasons for dismissal.

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