The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights is now investigating the unauthorized access of medical records of whistleblowers at numerous Veterans Affairs hospitals.
Brandon Coleman, a Phoenix VA whistleblower who says his own records were suspiciously accessed, welcomed the investigation.
“Any time an outside agency can investigate the VA that’s a good thing,” Coleman told TheDC.
“OCR gathered additional information related to your allegations from the VA medical center you identified,” Sarah Brown, OCR’s Interim Associate Director, told Coleman in a recent letter, “as well as multiple medical centers across the country.”
In August 2015, The Daily Caller reported that Coleman’s medical file was accessed three times by managers in the Phoenix VA — just months after Coleman stepped forward to reveal that hospital’s mishandling of veteran suicides.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act strictly forbids anyone but a treating physician from accessing medical records.
Coleman, a military veteran, not only worked at the Phoenix VA, but received medical treatment there. He told TheDC that he stopped using the facility shortly after finding out his medical records were illegally accessed.
Coleman testified in front of the House Veteran Affairs Committee in September 2015, where he detailed the breach.
During that testimony, Coleman described how these numerous breaches were part of an apparent campaign of retaliation in which he was put on leave and instructed not to speak to other Phoenix VA employees.
“I received a ‘gag order’ from [VA Hospital Director Glen] Grippen forbidding me from speaking to any other Phoenix VA employees but saying I could get medical care as a vet. How does a veteran get medical care without being allowed to speak to any VA employees?” Coleman said in his testimony.
Coleman is not the only VA whistleblower to have his medical records illegally accessed.
Christopher “Shea” Wilkes works at the Shreveport, Louisiana VA Hospital and blew the whistle on a secret wait list at that hospital.
He said, shortly after that disclosure, a manager told him he was “unstable and unfit to lead.”
Wilkes, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after a tour in Afghanistan, believed someone was in his medical records. Shortly after this meeting, Wilkes found that his medical records were accessed by unauthorized personnel multiple times.
Wilkes and Coleman are both part of the group, VA Truth Tellers — a group of VA whistleblowers. Wilkes told TheDC that about 20 veterans from that group have alleged that they, too, have had their medical records accessed by unauthorized individuals.
An email to HHS OCR was left unreturned.
Meagan Lutz, spokeswoman for the VA in Washington, D.C. did not respond to an email request for comment.