On March 19, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a legislative hearing on H.R. 571, the Veterans Affairs Retaliation Prevention Act of 2015. H.R. 571 would provide Veterans’ Affairs (VA) employees who seek to report potential government waste, criminal behavior, or compromised healthcare services within the VA a set process to fix problems at the lowest level possible while affording them improved protection from retaliation. This legislation will also prohibit superiors from retaliating against employees who report or assist in reporting problems to the VA, the Inspector General, Congress, or the GAO.
Meghan Flanz, Director, Office of Accountability Review, Department of Veterans Affairs testified that while the “VA is absolutely committed to ensuring fair treatment for whistleblowers,” “the specific whistleblower disclosure and protection procedures provided by this bill would be unworkable.” She went as far to say that the new legislation would cause “unintended” negative consequences.
The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., would require retaliation complaints to be handled more formally and quickly, and add stiff penalties against those who retaliate.
Rep. Miller introduced the bill in response to the 2014 VA scandal, which uncovered a culture of retaliation and bureaucratic corruption at the VA. The core of that culture is the rampant retaliation against VA employees who speak up in an attempt to fix problems within the VA.
Another bill, H.R. 1129 Veterans’ Whistleblower and Patient Protection Act of 2015, was also introduced to resolve the whistleblower retaliation issues within the VA. This bill would centralize where whistleblower retaliation complaints are handled into a new Office of Whistleblower and Patient Protection. Rep. Ann Fitzpatrick, D-Ariz., said the two proposals could be combined.
In regard to H.R. 1129, Ms. Flanz stated that the VA believes that its current process for responding to whistleblower retaliation claims is “adequate”.
Related link: Legislative Hearing on H.R. 571 & H.R. 1129