"Celebrated and not scorned."
That is certainly how individuals coming forward to report fraud, waste and abuse occurring in facilities administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs want to be regarded.
That is, they seek to be duly recognized in a positive way. And they want to be rewarded for their efforts as whistleblowers.
Instead, they say they are being punished.
A recent in-depth national article spotlights the alleged disconnect between the federal government's promised improvements safeguarding whistleblowers and the actual reality that exists following their reports of malfeasance and other wrongdoing.
Promised reform via a recently enacted executive order
Whistleblower advocacy groups and organizations generally focused on fraud-fighting measures were enthralled late last year when President Trump took pen to paper. The president's signature on an order creating the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection clearly signaled an elevation in whistleblower status. The nation's chief executive stated that the legislation was an acknowledgment of whistleblowers' efforts and that it would "make sure they're protected."
Critics of that view already abound in the mere months since the law's passage. They say that the enactment undermines rather than reinforces whistleblower safeguards for a number of reasons. They additionally note that it suffers from critical defects that promote rather than rein in fraud.
What do critics allege concerning new federal whistleblower law?
Discontent with the VA's new office pledging whistleblower reform and protections runs deep. Critics spotlight these concerns, among other things:
- Evidence pointing to participation of wrongdoers in probes investigating whistleblowers' allegations
- VA actions that reasonably seem aimed at undermining the careers of prominent whistleblowers
- Widespread perception that the VA seeks to silence critics and dampen whistleblower activity
- VA admission concerning office shortcomings and the need for improvement
Those concerns and more were recently conveyed to national lawmakers at a hearing featuring multiple whistleblowers who have suffered professional downslides since going public with negative information about VA medical facilities.
One of those speakers alluded to a nationwide clamping down on candor coming from the ranks.
"For every person who wants to speak up," he told a congressional panel, "there are thousands of others that have tried, only to be removed, demoted and silenced."
Principal speakers with advocacy groups watching the confrontation play out also note dire concerns regarding VA whistleblower safeguards and the recently created agency office. One of them states than an "ad hoc" atmosphere permeating the office, coupled with lack of established rules and standards, "maximizes confusion and enables arbitrary action."
VA decision makers themselves seem at least partially on board with that assessment, as noted above. A program spokesperson says that the agency is "working on a number of key improvements."
Those can't come fast enough for the broad-based coalition feeling that brave and resolute individuals risking their careers to spotlight fraud and related wrongdoing are in personal peril for doing so.