The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is offering to pay an employee who had a role in exposing corruption at the agency $305,000 to induce her to leave quietly — but the corruption she warned about remains intact, and department leaders have been unable to justify the payoff.
New records show that the proposed settlement would be the largest paid under VA Under Secretary Bob McDonald’s watch, seemingly illustrating the lengths to which VA will go to silence whistleblowers. The largest VA settlement so far has been $290,000, and the average one has been $24,000, VA records produced to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs show.
Rosayma Lopez works as a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) officer, so bosses appear afraid that keeping her on the job and processing requests from the media and the public promptly and meticulously could cause embarrassing information about agency operations to leak out. The department has kept FOIAs from reaching her by illegally telling requesters they would have to pay tens of thousands of dollars if they want to learn basics about what their government is doing.
Lopez showed them that she values accuracy and integrity over blind allegiance by refusing to fabricate a report that would be used to fire another employee who did nothing wrong.
Puerto Rico hospital Director Dewayne Hamlin wanted that employee fired because he exposed Hamlin’s arrest on drunk driving charges, where he was found with painkillers. Opiates leaking from VA hospitals for recreational purposes is a major issue. (RELATED: Ex-Con Hired by Puerto Rico VA Killed In Gun Battle)
When Lopez refused, Hamlin turned his ire to her, and embarked on a quest to ensure he didn’t have to work with her — no matter how much taxpayer money it cost.
Generally, financial settlements signify that the receiving party was an innocent victim of government misconduct.
But in Lopez’s case, there are strings attached: to get the money, she must quit. The settlement is being offered by Hamlin, who has not been disciplined for the repeated instances of retaliation.
McDonald has claimed the department doesn’t tolerate retaliating against whistleblowers, so explaining why it would pay one to agree to quit the department and not re-apply is a challenge. (RELATED: Los Angeles VA Hospital Lost 30 Cars, Then Fired Worker Who Reported It)
The fact that it would be the largest one ever makes it more likely that his office would have had to approve it. (The deal also would forbid her from reapplying for work at the VA nationwide, so it would have to go in the national human resources system.) But if McDonald didn’t know about his subordinates’ efforts to spend hundreds of thousands in tax money to cover up their own misconduct, he does now, and has done nothing.
The Daily Caller News Foundation asked that question of head spokesman James Hutton more than two weeks ago. He did not reply.
On August 31, TheDCNF told McDonald about the situation in a text to his personal cell phone. There was no response.
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