The Department of Veterans Affairs has concocted a new scheme to silence whistleblowers who publicly disclose certain whistleblower retaliation facts.
The new scheme involves penalizing whistleblowers who publicly disclose the identity of anyone who is engaged in harassing them for being a whistleblower. VA is now treating such statements as a violation of the privacy rights of the alleged wrongdoer and while infringing on the free speech rights of the victim.
Phoenix VA Anti-Free Speech
The practice involves none other than Phoenix VA and its assault against Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez, a whistleblower who disclosed the facility is still engaged in wait list type treatment of veterans.
After Rodriguez disclosed the continued practice to the press, he began being harassed by facility supervision.
He then disclosed the identity of one of the VA employees who engaged in the harassment to his contact in the press. It was this latter act that resulted in VA threatening to terminate Rodriguez employment.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs is obligated to ensure the confidentiality of its beneficiaries’ and employees’ personal identifying information,” the VA said in a statement regarding Rodriguez’s pending discipline. “Employees are expected to act in a manner that is consistent with VA’s core values of Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence. Leadership should take action to ensure the safety of our patients and staff and preserve the integrity of our mission within applicable laws and regulations.”
What does punishing a whistleblower who acknowledges information about the person who is harassing him to a member of the press?
First Amendment Coalition
VA has long asserted VA employees have a right to privacy in their name, but at least one First Amendment advocacy group believes the use of the privacy act in this manner is overly broad.
David Snyder, executive director of The First Amendment Coalition, said, “To threaten discipline up to and included firing seems at the very least heavy-handed; it’s not like the Social Security or bank account numbers were released.”
“Is the mere existence of an employee’s name secret or to be withheld from the public? Certainly not,” Snyder said. “The mere existence of a name isn’t something they are entitled to redact” in document requests.
VA treats its activities in a manner consistent with that of the NSA – everything is secret unless the agency chooses to disclose the matter. It is this level of unwarranted secrecy that has prevented the agency from the reforms necessary to turn around the corrupt culture rotting away in facilities like Phoenix VA.
Congress On Rodriguez Harassment Case
The new House Committee on Veterans Affairs chairman, Dr. Phil Roe (R-TN), believes the anti-free speech scheme is unwarranted and planned a trip to the facility.
“It is unacceptable that any law-abiding whistle-blower would be punished for bringing the issues within VA to light,” Roe said in a statement. Roe went on to add that he has introduced legislation to enhance whistle-blower protections and allow for easier suspension, demotion or firing of bad employees.
But doesn’t it seem like no amount of scrutiny or sunlight can fix the corrupt cultural rot that has too infected the culture in Phoenix? At what point should the fed step in and prosecute the criminal elements within VA?
Rodriguez disclosed to the press that over 200 veterans died as a result of the scandal. VA OIG previously attempted to cover up the total impact of the bonus and performance fraud scheme, and apparently, VA is none too happy with Rodriguez calling his co-workers on the carpet.
Maybe it’s time to shut Phoenix VA down?