S. 2291 Forces VA to Address Reports of Patient Abuse, Punish Those Who Retaliate Against Whistleblowers
Bill Protects VA Employees Who Protect Veterans
(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC), and his colleagues Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) today announced the introduction of the bipartisan VA Patient Protection Act (S. 2291) to force the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to address reports of abuse of veteran patients and to punish VA managers who ignore, intimidate and retaliate against whistleblowers. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) today held a hearing on S. 2291 several other VA reform bills.
“This bipartisan bill provides critical protection to whistleblowers who uncover wrongdoing-- misconduct that often victimizes veterans and squanders taxpayer dollars,” said SVAC Ranking Member Blumenthal. “All too often VA managers have sought to intimidate or punish public servants who disclose important information about health care delays, fraudulent record-keeping or other issues. Whistleblowers literally speak truth to power, and need and deserve protection against reprisal or retaliation.”
“This bill protects our veterans by protecting those who care for them,” Senator Kirk said. “By giving whistleblowers like Germaine Clarno and Dr. Lisa Nee a voice, we can end the VA’s culture of corruption and make sure our veterans are never again treated like second-class citizens.”
“Whistleblowers are heroes,” Senator Grassley said. “They ought to be celebrated, not ignored, sidelined or fired. Whistleblowers were critical in exposing the VA scandals, and they’re critical to fixing what’s wrong at the agency. The independent Office of Special Counsel has vindicated many VA whistleblowers so far. Our bill will protect the employees who are going out on a limb to make the agency work for veterans.”
“Our veterans deserve to have confidence that VA hospital staff have no one but the patient’s best interest in mind when they spot a problem, and VA employees shouldn’t have to fear retaliation for standing up and advocating for the veterans they serve,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This legislation would help ensure VA employees who stand up for veterans don’t have to fear punishment and retaliation for doing what’s right for their patients.”
“As the events at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Wisconsin have illustrated, when VA whistleblowers are punished for reporting wrongdoing, it can dramatically affect the care provided to our nation’s veterans,” Senator Johnson said. “There must be zero tolerance within the VA for whistleblower retaliation. The transparency and information that whistleblowers provide is essential to ensuring the highest quality of care for the finest among us.”
“More must be done to change the status quo. We must work to build a VA that embraces, rather than retaliates against, whistleblowers who want to improve the system,” Senator Baldwin said. “We need to ensure that whistleblowers are empowered and this bipartisan reform legislation will hold the VA managers accountable for unacceptable retaliation and intimidation. Most importantly, it will improve the VA so veterans can get the care and services they need and deserve.”
In order to address the challenges faced by VA employees who stand up for veterans, and to punish the managers who retaliate against whistleblowers, the VA Patient Protection Act:
- Punishes retaliation. After the first offense of retaliation, a supervisor will receive a minimum 12-day suspension. On the second offense, they will be fired.
- Holds supervisors accountable. Supervisors’ performance ratings will be tied to how they respond to and deal with whistleblower reports and complaints.
- Protects whistleblowers. The Whistleblower Protection Act will be expanded to prevent retaliation against VA doctors and nurses through performance reports. All VA employees will receive training about their rights as whistleblowers.
- Ensures complaints are handled properly. Mirroring the Marine Corps Request Mast, employees who report misconduct can go to the next level supervisor if their immediate supervisor fails to properly handle their complaint. Establishing a formal complaint process ensures there is a paper trail to hold the VA accountable.