VA Overtakes Defense Dept. as Leading Government Source of Complaints about Treatment of Employees

Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Carolyn Lerner testifying before a congressional committee (photo: Cliff Owen, AP)

The leader in the federal government when it comes to mistreating whistleblowers is now the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), according to the legal office that keeps track of such cases.


The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent agency that deals with whistleblower retaliations, told Congress last week that for the first time, the VA “surpassed the Department of Defense” in the total number of whistleblower cases filed with it as of 2014.


The VA accomplished this ignominious feat “even though the Defense Department has twice the number of civilian employees as the VA,” Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner told senators during a hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.


Lerner said her office estimates 35% of the possible 4,000 “prohibited personnel practice cases” filed from across government in 2015 to be from VA employees. VA whistleblower reprisal cases filed with OSC in 2013 totaled 405. This year, they’re projected to reach 712, a 75% increase. Consequently, her small staff has been “truly overwhelmed,” Lerner testified.


“The VA has a culture problem with whistleblower retaliation,” Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), chairman of the committee, said during the hearing. “The most troubling aspect being that in the end, it’s the veterans who ultimately suffer when the courageous employees who expose wrongdoing are punished.”


Other senators noted that there is a lack of discipline against people who retaliate against whistleblowers. During the past year, only nine VA employees were recommended for disciplinary action by the agency, reported The Washington Post. Of those, one person was fired, four were suspended, two received reprimands, and two cases are still under review.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

VA Culture of Reprisals against Whistleblowers Remains Strong after Scandal (by Joe Davidson, Washington Post)

VA Accounts for More Than One-Third of Government’s Whistleblower Complaints (by Charles Clark, Government Executive)

Prohibited Personnel Practices (Office of Special Counsel)

Testimony of Carolyn Lerner, Special Counsel, U.S. Office of Special Counsel: Review of Whistleblower Claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies) (pdf)


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