Here Are The Documents Showing Massive Whistleblower Retaliation At Phoenix VA

Jonah Bennett | Contributor

Two high-level officials at the Phoenix VA medical center have completely escaped punishment for allegedly retaliating against whistleblowers who brought to light serious patient care problems.

Despite trying to keep the names of the retaliating officials quiet, the Department of Veterans Affairs now has a public relations nightmare on its hands, as the reports have emerged.

The internal investigations wrapped up 15 months ago. The evidence is in. Investigators substantiated definite retaliation and recommended disciplinary action against Dr. Darren Deering, the chief of staff at the Phoenix VA, as well as the facility’s associate director Lance Robinson, according to reports obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Deering retaliated against Dr. Katherine Mitchell, according to an Office of Accountability Review.

Following Dr. Mitchell’s disclosure of terrible patient care and nursing errors, nurses erupted in anger and submitted written complaints against her and refused to cooperate for patient care efforts. Deering was fully aware of this environment and dismissed Mitchell’s concerns out of hand simply because of the sheer number of nurse complaints, as well as the fact that Deering did not view her original disclosures as valid in the first place, according to the report.

Deering then reassigned Mitchell to get her away from the ensuing “malignant” situation in the emergency room, when in fact that malignant situation developed as backlash to Mitchell’s unwelcome disclosures. Instead of trying to fix the issues brought up by the disclosures, Deering put Mitchell in for an involuntary move to another area.

Mitchell was then placed on leave because she had allegedly accessed personal health information without proper authority. The OAR determined that the leave action was likely retaliatory because the VA failed to provide information on whether other employees, who similarly accessed patient records, were also disciplined. By all appearances, the report concludes, the VA likely singled Mitchell out for accessing the records because she acted as a whistleblower.

In fact, she accessed the records because she was assigned with devising measures to reduce veteran suicides. To do so, she needed access to patient records to find out if there were any common patterns present in the data.

Notably, multiple Phoenix VA employees have inappropriately accessed the records of other whistleblowers, yet have not received any disciplinary action. In the case of Brandon Coleman, a whistleblower, Phoenix employees accessed his personal records three times, which Coleman considers harassment.

Deering isn’t the only official to engage in retaliatory actions. Lance Robinson, associate director at Phoenix, also retaliated against Paula Pedene, a public affairs officer, by stripping Pedene of job duties and reassigning her to a basement. As soon as Pedene blew the whistle, Robinson decided to select her for targeting, investigations later found.

The findings regarding Deering and Robinson have hit VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s desk.

Yet, 15 months later, the VA has not taken any disciplinary action whatsoever. Robinson has remained on paid leave since May 2014. Deering is still employed and untouched.

Lawmakers only found out about Deering’s activities recently, which is why the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee abruptly canceled his appearance at a Monday hearing.

“VA’s routine and pervasive refusal to seriously discipline employees who have engaged in proven incompetence, corruption and malfeasance is contributing to all of the department’s most serious problems,” GOP Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement. “In this case, the department’s own investigations determined more than a year ago that two high-level Phoenix VA Health Care System administrators retaliated against whistleblowers, yet incredibly VA still hasn’t disciplined these officials for their retaliatory behavior.”

Miller added that top-level officials almost certainly knew about the retaliation for over a year without firing or disciplining the two.

Although in the past, the VA has stated that it has avoided acting on disciplinary recommendations because it wants to wait for confirmation from the inspector general or Department of Justice, Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said at a recent hearing that the waiting is over.

Gibson told lawmakers that he, too, is frustrated at the slow pace and overly burdensome costs of disciplinary reviews. These reviews are notoriously lengthy and bureaucratic.

“We’ve waited too long, and we’re not going to do it again,” Gibson said at the hearing. “I’m not going to defer to the IG’s investigation or frankly, to a Department of Justice investigation, because I can’t be assured when it’s going to be completed.”

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Tags : department of veterans affairs jeff miller lance robinson phoenix robert mcdonald
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