The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee wants to know if there’s any truth to an anonymous disclosure that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is spying on whistleblower emails.
An anonymous whistleblower contacted the congressional committee after discovering IT services at the department was blocking several email functions, The Washington Examiner reported Thursday.
Further investigation into a list called “Sec Divert Internal” revealed that it contains the names of prominent whistleblowers from across the country. The IT worker then told the whistleblower he believes that email traffic from the names on the list is being sent to the secretary of the VA’s office for examination.
Scott Davis, a whistleblower from Atlanta, is just one of the names on the list. While not strictly a VA employee, Linda Ellinghuysen — a union representative involved in bringing to light the abusive behavior of former Tomah VA’s Chief of Staff Dr. David Houlihan — made the list. Christian DeJohn, a whistleblower from Philadelphia, is also catalogued.
This apparent practice comes at a time when the department claims to be devoted to helping whistleblowers and putting a stop to retaliation.
“I think it’s a shame they’re monitoring whistleblowers,” Scott Davis told The Washington Examiner.
The VA told The Washington Examiner that emails on the list are in fact being diverted to the secretary. But the real reason for snooping on emails, according to the VA, is so management can better respond to complaints in a timely manner.
“As part of the Secretary’s commitment to changing the culture of VA to provide better customer service to Veterans and to empower employees, because it is their work that makes VA better for our veterans, certain emails received by the secretary and deputy are immediately forwarded to VA’s client relations team for priority review and quick action,” a VA spokesperson told The Washington Examiner.
The VA also added that the term “divert” is not entirely accurate and may even sound nefarious. So last year, the list’s name was changed to “priority.”
Davis believes the collection of names is a hit list for retaliation.
Another whistleblower said the VA probably spies on email traffic to make sure they don’t contact members of Congress. After the whistleblower had a meeting with congressional staff, he was placed on leave without pay.
“Should I be flattered or creeped out?” this whistleblower told The Washington Examiner. “Are they spying on my work email, or keeping me from reporting abuses to Secretary McDonald?”
The VA also has a history of accessing the medical records of whistleblowers despite there being no apparent reason for this access.
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