December 21, 2015

Whistleblower of the Year Candidate – The VA Whistleblowers

By Jason Enzler

This “Whistleblower Spotlight” features the Veterans Affairs whistleblowers, one of our candidates for 2015 Whistleblower of the Year.  They are a (continually growing) group of healthcare providers, administrative employees, and other insiders at the VA Department who have come forward to identify the horrendous treatment of our veterans at the hospitals that are supposed to take care of them.  Dozens of our military veterans have died just waiting to be seen for simple screening procedures, and others have been relegated to a black box of never knowing when they might receive care, or delayed care that exacerbates their medical problems and pain.  These whistleblowers, some of them named, and others reporting anonymously, have shed light on these practices and have continued to push for reform for years –which unfortunately seems to be a battle that must still be waged in the New Year.

Sam Foote, a retired doctor from the VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, is the whistleblower who many credit as the first to come forward with allegations that the VA Department was delaying care to our nation’s veterans.  According to news reports, he claimed that scores of veterans died while waiting months or even years to be seen for simple screening procedures, and many others were suffering from similar delays.  Many of the delays allegedly involved manipulation or alteration of records to disguise the VA’s problems with wait times for care.  Dr. Foote testified in front of Congress in order to bring this issue to the forefront.

Katherine Mitchell, another doctor at the VA hospital in Phoenix, spoke out about how she saw the VA hospital using a secret list to conceal the long wait times that veterans were forced to endure.  Dr. Mitchell blew the whistle by going to the Arizona Republic after she saw that evidence was being destroyed.  Despite facing alleged retaliation for her whistleblowing, this year she has continued to push for reform, claiming that despite the supposed changes in the VA, wait times for our veterans to receive care are still unacceptable.

And then there’s Pauline DeWenter, a scheduling clerk at the Phoenix VA hospital, who also stepped up to shine light on what she saw going on.  Ms. DeWenter was on the front lines; according to her, she was instructed to manage the secret waiting list of veterans receiving delayed care (or no care at all).  For example, she claimed that notes showing a veteran had died were changed to make it look like the veteran had not died while waiting for medical care.

Many other brave whistleblowers have come forward, some named and some anonymously.

But unfortunately, it seems as though the battle is far from won.  In September 2015, the Office of the Inspector General for the VA Department released a report showing that less than 10% of the roughly 40,000 complaints it received were ever investigated.  CNN published a report in October 2015 revealing that wait times for our veterans to receive medical care do not seem to be getting appreciably better.  And just last week, a Washington Times article revealed that two senior managers at the VA’s Phoenix facility who allegedly retaliated against VA whistleblowers still held their positions.

This nomination is for the named and the anonymous whistleblowers, those who have come forward and those considering coming forward — the people shining a light on what is wrong with the care our military veterans are (not) receiving.

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If you would like more information or would like to speak to a member of Constantine Cannon’s whistleblower lawyer team, please click here.

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