During his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump played up legislation passed in 2017 to bring accountability to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).
“We passed V.A. accountability so that we can finally terminate those who mistreat our wonderful veterans,” Trump announced.
“He is absolutely right,” said Curt Cashour, press secretary for the VA. Cashour also provided numbers to support that assertion:
- In calendar year 2016, VA fired 2,001 people.
- In calendar year 2017, VA fired 2,537 people.
- From Jan. 2018 through Nov. 2018, VA fired 2,889 people.
Additionally, the law is speeding up the disciplinary process for employees who fail to live up to the high standards Veterans and taxpayers have earned.
Prior to the implementation of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, VA management generally had a minimum of 30 calendar days between the issuance of a proposal and the effective date of the action, and there was no maximum timeframe during which a decision had to be issued.
Now, the law requires that a decision notice must be issued within 15 business days after the issuance of the proposal notice, and VA leadership expects this statutory requirement to be met.
VA whistleblowers who spoke with The Daily Caller disagreed, arguing little has changed since the scandal broke in 2014.
Jay DeNofrio — Altoona, Pennsylvania VA
James DeNofrio is a whistleblower at the Altoona VA in Pennsylvania and tweeted this out shortly after the speech concluded.
If this is true why has the number of VA employees gone down under @realDonaldTrump while the number of OSC whistleblower retaliation complaints keep going up? #VAAccountability @VAOAWP https://t.co/mIMeIfQ1U0
— James DeNofrio (@JamesDeNofrio) February 6, 2019
He followed up in an email, “Not only does VA’s own reporting show less accountability since the passage of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection in 2017 but the VA OAWP has, in my opinion, been weaponized to target whistleblowers like me who make lawful disclose of wrongdoing to protect Veterans.”
According to documents provided through a Freedom of Information Act, he has been under investigation since Oct. 2018 by the new VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, the new office created by the 2017 law.
Sean Higgins — Memphis VA
Sean Higgins is a Memphis VA whistleblower who was terminated for the third time on the eve of the law passage. He has been credited with more than thirty disclosures of waste, fraud and abuse.
He laughed when asked if the new law has brought accountability.
“The president’s assessment is that the accountability act works. I say, Mr. President, is that another one of your alternative facts?” Higgins said.
Higgins is still appealing his third termination.
Dan Martin — Northern Indiana VA
Dan Martin is the Chief Engineer for the Northern Indiana VA a whistleblower, who exposed contract fraud; Martin testified in front of the House Committee on Veteran Affairs on July 17, 2018. At the time, he had been made to sit in an office for 495 days while also under investigation.
In an email, Martin said it was Trump who inspired him to be a whistleblower.
I have been on a “do nothing all day” detail for almost two years. The reason is because after President Trump was elected, I felt that his administration would be the one to finally hold the VA accountable, so I disclosed to Northern Indiana VA Medical Center Director Michael Hershman [and] the VA’s Office of Inspector General that senior level VA officials were funneling of millions of dollars of taxpayer’s dollars to single entity who plied then with improper [and] illegal gifts [and] kickbacks.
Knowing how the VA goes after whistleblowers, I asked to be detailed or transferred pending the OIG investigation.
On March 10, 2017, I was relieved of duty pending an investigation into out of the blue allegations of misconduct by me. Under the new VA Accountability [and] Whistleblower Protection Act, if even one thing the corrupt VA officials [and] attorneys had alleged against me were even kinda true, I should have been fired quicker than a sneeze going through a screen door.
To my knowledge there are close to 100 other Department of Veterans Affair’s whistleblowers across the country who are also on these “no nothing” details “pending an investigation” If the president, Congress [and] the American people knew how the VA’s entrenched corrupt leadership [and] ethically bankrupt attorneys had perverted [and] twisted the VA Accountability [and] Whistleblower Protection Act, I believe there would be cries demanding Robert Mueller investigate the deep levels of corruption [and] mismanagement at the VA.
Heck, if folks knew how VA officials [and] cagey contractors were lining their pockets with their tax dollars, it would made a preacher mad enough to kick out stained glass windows.
Germaine Clarno — Hines, Illinois, VA
Germaine Clarno is a social worker, union rep, and whistleblower at the Hines VA in Illinois; Clarno first disclosed a secret waiting list at that hospital in 2014.
Like Martin, she believes the law has been perverted:
The Accountability Act has been used to go after whistleblowers and those who speak up. If you aren’t loyal to the status quo and dare to speak up, you are considered a traitor and all means necessary will be used to have you removed. I see it time after time, good employees with excellent experience and credentials that speak up are ran out of the VA. The culture of fear and retaliation continues and it’s a real shame that the ones that suffer the most are our veterans.
Joseph Colon — Puerto Rico VA
“At the VA, there is accountability for lower level employees and whistleblowers, but at the same time, accountability has failed to reach unethical leaders. Unethical leaders that have failed veterans, and retaliated against whistleblowers, seem to be immune to accountability,” Colon said.
Greg Chiles — Fort Harrison, Montana VA
Chiles was one of four VA police officers featured in the Caller in April 2018.
Chiles said he supports Trump and has attended his rallies but said he too has been disappointed by the lack of accountability after the 2017 law.
“Since his accountability bill was signed, I have endured multiple investigations against me. Those responsible have not been held accountable, even after the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) was in favor of a complaint I filed,” Chiles said.