Whistleblowers celebrated President Donald Trump’s decision to sign the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act into law Friday morning as a hopeful beacon of change, but are wary the legislation could be used against them.
Prominent whistleblowers Brandon Coleman, Sean Higgins and Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez told The Daily Caller News Foundation that they appreciate the bill and see it as a major shift towards reform, but are also concerned it may be used to speed up firing of legitimate whistleblowers, instead of targeting incompetent employees.
“Whistleblowers around the nation are concerned that this legislation will make it easier to fire them (WB’s) while the real culprits management will continue their reign of terror on them,” Sean Higgins, whistleblower at the Memphis VA, told TheDCNF. “POTUS has not reached out to WB’s in the way we had hoped to hear our plight. The VA management continues its corrupt ways, while no one is held accountable except WB’s. Our concern is that management be held accountable and the reprisal and retaliation stops.”
Brandon Coleman, whistleblower at the Phoenix VA, said that Friday’s signing of the legislation is dedicated to whistleblowers who have had their careers destroyed.
“The last three years have been a long road trying to force feed the Department of Veterans Affairs any form of accountability,” Coleman said. “There have been countless acts of fraud, waste and abuse of our nations heroes and dozens of instances where supervisors and administrators should have been fired. Many whistleblowers across the country have had their careers destroyed and their only crime is simply telling the truth. Today is for them. The hundreds of brave VA whistleblowers no one will ever know.”
“I applaud President Trump for keeping his promise to veterans, to Congress for actually coming together and passing this widely accepted bipartisan legislation, and to Sec. Shulkin for having the backbone to publicly support this bill,” Coleman added. “Moving forward there are many whistleblowers throughout the VA who are scared this new legislation will be used to quickly silence whistleblowers instead of going after the corrupt managers who are proven to retaliate against them. Much work ahead.”
Rodriguez, a whistleblower also at the Phoenix VA, said the bill is desperately needed because facility directors often abuse power.
“I feel the accountability act is long overdue because right now VA Facility Directors abuse their power to retaliate against whistleblowers like me,” Rodriguez said. “Our civil rights are violated and free speech squashed.”
Notably, there were zero whistleblowers in attendance at the signing of the bill.
A large number of major veterans’ organizations have thrown support behind the compromise bill, but union groups like the American Federation of Government Employees have consistently decried the bill as a “union-busting bill.”
Specifically, Concerned Veterans for America, a right-leaning veterans’ policy organization which has spearheaded this kind of legislation for years, applauded Congress and the administration coming together to serve veterans.
“Until this point, Secretary Shulkin hasn’t had the authority he needs to discipline or fire bad VA employees quickly,” Concerned Veterans for America policy director Dan Caldwell told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “As a result, negligent and even criminal employees have remained on the VA payroll and countless veterans have suffered. Moving forward, the toxic culture at the VA will hopefully begin to correct itself.”
The bill allows VA Secretary David Shulkin to fire any senior-level executive within a 21-day process. For regular employees, the process of contesting the firing through the Merit Systems Protection Board would take a maximum of 180 days.
The bill also gives the VA authority to retake bonuses or reduce pensions if an employee is convicted of a job-related felony.
Shulkin has been one of the most vocal advocates of the bill, which marks an astonishing shift from the previous administration. He has repeatedly cited instances in which employees have been able to evade discipline because the department’s hands are tied by overly long appeals processes.
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