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US: Whistleblowers Say Phoenix VA Still in Critical Condition

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Health system doctors and officials who were whistleblowers in the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital scandal testified on the retaliation and punishment they were subjected to after reporting problems. The number of deletions, three to four times what happened in phoenix . The other thing I want to go on record, and I realize this will probably result in me losing my job, but I think the veterans deserve better.

PHOENIX -- More than a year after we first learned of problems at the Phoenix VA Hospital -- they still have not been fixed. A new government report describes long waits for veterans seeking treatment. Whistleblowers charge the hospital is missing something essential: enough doctors. In October, the IG released a new report about critical staffing shortages in the Urology Department from April 2013 to September 2014. The report says "leaders did not have a plan to provide urological services" and the staffing crisis "impacted thousands of patients." "They killed him, the Phoenix VA ," said Debbie Allen

It's been almost three years since a whistleblower shocked the nation by disclosing that 1,400 of veterans languished without care at the Phoenix, Arizona, Veterans Affairs Hospital — and new whistleblowers say little has changed except for the harassment they've received.

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Coupaud said the Phoenix VA 's director received multiple complaints of harassment against the health services leadership team, which included Rodriguez. "In the VA , an AIB is an impartial inquiry to determine facts, collect evidence, reveal improvement areas, and identify system problems," Coupaud said . Many whistleblowers have reported some sort of retaliation from the hospital directors or the VA ’s Office of Inspector General — even though a federal law specifically prohibits harassment of agency employees who bring wrongdoing to light.

© Provided by CapeTalk. Athol Williams says both government and the private sector are failing whistleblowers in SA. Williams says he fled the country last week due to safety concerns. © Provided by CapeTalk A screengrab of former Bain partner Athol Williams giving evidence at the state capture inquiry on 23 March 2021. Picture: SABC/YouTube. "I am on my own as I have been for the last two years since I blew the whistle .". Those are the words of corruption whistleblower and author Athol Williams, who left South Africa last week citing growing safety concerns.

The April 2014 announcement cost then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his job while members of Congress and President Obama promised that they would do better by the 6 million veterans who use the hospital system. It proved to be an empty promise.

Earlier this month, the president's Office of Special Counsel (OSC) reported that thousands of Phoenix veterans went without appointments in the past two years — and 215 of them ultimately died.

Despite a mandate to see patients within one month, on a daily basis the hospital still has 1,100 people still waiting longer than that, the report found.

Now, the whistleblower who alerted the OSC to these alarming numbers tells NBC News that he believes his desire to save veterans' lives came with a price: the VA retaliated against him with harassment, insurmountable work tasks and by placing him under surveillance and investigation for not solving the scheduling problem the VA created.

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"Knapp said there has been an increase in assault reports, but a decrease in convictions." "More and more service members reporting that they're being retaliated against," she said . "In the military's most recent anonymous survey, 64% of women who reported a sexual assault said they experienced retaliation. People will create misinformation campaigns but the truth is coming out. There is no stopping it. The early truth speakers and whistleblowers will suffer, without question. This is the society we've made for ourselves. Their sacrifice will be for a better tomorrow.

The three whistleblowers we will hear from today come from VA facilities across the country. The hostility they received for their conscientious behavior shows that the retaliatory culture, where whistleblowers are castigated for bringing problems to light, is still very alive and well in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA is also the first Cabinet-level agency to satisfy the requirements for the Office of Special Counsel’s Whistleblowers Certification Program. In addi-tion, the VA and the OSC have implemented an expedited review process for whistleblower retaliation claims.

"As an Iraq veteran, it makes me feel like dirt that bureaucratic civilians who've never served this country are abusing vets like me, and killing vets who have are defenseless because they're ill," said Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez, a scheduling manager for the Phoenix VA's specialty care. "They know the price of freedom and the VA abuses that, and benefits off the backs of veterans."

Rodriguez's plight to expose the corrupt system even caught the attention of Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, whom respectively, wrote a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald demanding answers and issued statements praising the Rodriguez and Coleman.

John McCain, Eric Shinseki, Robert Petzel © Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, right, and Veterans A... John McCain, Eric Shinseki, Robert Petzel

Rodriguez said he sought the protection of the OSC after several things happened: His complaint to the Inspector General's office was somehow emailed to several staff members by his boss, his computer was monitored, he was placed under surveillance, and he was criticized for not fixing scheduling problems by himself.

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VA whistleblowers from across the country told a Senate committee that the department has failed to hold supervisors accountable more than a year after a scandal that broke over chronic delays for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records covering up the waits. Phoenix was the epicenter of the wait-time scandal that led to the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and a new law overhauling the agency and authorizing billions in new spending. Griffin also came under fire after USA Today reported last year that his office had declined to release 140 other reports on health

"They grilled me for four hours in a [VA investigatory] board. I was in the military and had to deal with the CIA once and that only took me an hour," Rodriguez told NBC News.

"I've been in combat in Iraq and to have to come home and deal with this?" asked Rodriguez.

Phoenix VA spokesman Paul Coupaud denied that Rodriguez was being retaliated against for whistleblowing, but said the actions were taking because the VA's Administrative Investigation Board (AIB) was "investigating allegations of harassment."

Coupaud said the Phoenix VA's director received multiple complaints of harassment against the health services leadership team, which included Rodriguez.

"In the VA, an AIB is an impartial inquiry to determine facts, collect evidence, reveal improvement areas, and identify system problems," Coupaud said. "Generally, an AIB does not make recommendations for action to senior leaders, but only reports facts found during the investigation ... As the investigation is not complete, we cannot address what facts the AIB has or has not discovered."

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The VA also disputed the number of veteran deaths saying the number was actually 118 — and that only one person could be verified as a definite result of unscheduled care.

Rodriguez said he first discovered that something was wrong in April 2015, when he was going through a list of veterans unscheduled for care and found six dead patients. Concerned, he did further research and found more than 200 dead patients — all who had died waiting for procedures like dialysis, colonoscopies, lump removals, vascular surgeries and mental health screenings. Thousands more patients awaited appointments, he said.

He brought the findings to his supervisors but decided to complain to the Inspector General when "there was no real movement to get to the bottom why we weren't scheduling people on time."

Image: Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center © The Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix in June 11, 2014. Image: Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center The VA would have needed to hire an additional 38 people to manage the scheduling, but no move was done to do this, he said.

Rodriguez, who served as an Army military police officer for seven years, is one of about 50 whistleblowers who have surfaced in the past few years to complain about excessive wait times, dirty facilities and substandard care in VA hospitals across the nation.

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Many whistleblowers have reported some sort of retaliation from the hospital directors or the VA's Office of Inspector General — even though a federal law specifically prohibits harassment of agency employees who bring wrongdoing to light.

Veteran Shea Wilkes, a social worker at the Shreveport VA Hospital was placed under criminal investigation by the Inspector General after he reported hundreds of patients had been placed on a secret waiting list so the hospital appeared to be complying with the one-month mandate. His "crime" was violating HIPAA laws by turning over the list of names to prove his allegations, according to documents by the OSC and interviews with Wilkes and his attorney, Richard John.

The probe lasted a year and ended in June 2015 when John received a phone call from the Inspector General saying Wilkes was no longer under investigation, John said.

And therapist Brandon Coleman was suspended for 460 days on what he says were unsubstantiated charges of assault in Phoenix after he told the media that suicidal veterans were leaving the facility without receiving proper care. The OSC stepped in and resolved the matter in May 2016, finding a new place within the VA for Coleman to work that didn't involve harassment, he said.

"The whole thing smells fishy," Coleman said of VA probe into Rodriguez. "It is Phoenix VA leadership textbook 101 how they work harder to go after whistleblowers than they do in actually admitting to and fixing the problems we raise."

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