11-22: Fate of a VA Whistleblower

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece from the Associated Press’ Dan Elliott.]

Trouble at Veterans Affairs

When Brian Smothers went to Congresspersons claiming wrongdoing at the VA with regard to waiting times for mental health care, the country seethed with outrage—not at Smothers, mind you, but at the system that was allegedly committing sins of omission with regard to our “warriors.” Changes were in fact introduced but, apparently, Smothers himself became a pariah within the workplace.

I do not state this lightly: Government bureaucracy is authoritarian, stifling, and vindictive. (I know. I worked for DoD.)

Here is Elliott’s article.

Veterans Affairs Whistleblower Resigns, Citing Retaliation

DENVER (AP) — A Department of Veterans Affairs employee who told Congress the agency was using unauthorized wait lists for mental health care in Colorado has resigned, saying he was subjected to retaliation for speaking out.

Brian Smothers told The Associated Press [recently] the VA had opened two separate inquiries into his actions and tried to get him to sign a statement saying he had broken VA rules. He said he refused.

Return to Your Job—Not Really

Smothers also said the VA reassigned him to an office with no computer access, no significant duties and no social contact.

He called the VA’s actions punitive and his working conditions intolerable….

At Issue:

Smothers alleges that Colorado VA facilities in Denver and suburban Golden used unauthorized wait lists for mental health services from 2012 until last September. He said the lists hid how long it takes for veterans to get treatment and made the demand for mental health care appear lower than it really was.

He said the longer that veterans have to wait for mental health care, the less likely they are to use it when it becomes available….

Smothers was a peer support specialist on the VA’s post-traumatic stress disorder clinical support team in Denver. He said he started the job in April 2015.

Following the rules …

Smothers went to Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Cory Gardner of Colorado in September, saying he had uncovered the unauthorized lists on spreadsheets in the VA computer system. He also said a veteran had taken his own life while waiting for PTSD treatment at a Colorado Springs VA clinic….

While working for the Government, I, too, became involved in a project over which a civilian, working for a contractor, took his own life.

Senators’ Statements:

Gardner said in a written statement that he was troubled by the circumstances of Smothers’ resignation.

“This employee’s communication with my office is protected by federal law,” he said. Gardner said he has asked the inspector general to look into whether the VA retaliated against Smothers.

Johnson said he too is concerned about Smothers’ case.

“My office will continue to work with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to ensure that federal employees who blow the whistle do not suffer any retaliation,” he said in an email.

The Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal agency that protects whistleblowers….

Smothers said that after he contacted the senators, the VA investigated whether his actions had violated agency rules and concluded they had not….

Everyone loses in this story: Veterans, Smothers, the VA, Congressional procedures (which take on a life of their own), the American people. It is an unfortunate fact of our lives that Veterans and active duty personnel will need health care for a very long time. Admission of this indisputable fact—via whistleblowing or plain common sense—is not the problem; it is the beginning of a solution.

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

One thought on “11-22: Fate of a VA Whistleblower”

  1. Smothers has a conscience, he tried to do the right thing and then they try to find a way to shut him up unbelievable.

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