SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson warned VA administrators on Friday that intimidation or retaliation against anyone who calls attention to problems within the veterans’ health system will not be tolerated.
Federal investigators are examining allegations that VA supervisors retaliated against 37 employees who filed “whistleblower” complaints. It included some who complained about improper scheduling practices at the heart of a growing scandal within the VA system.
At a news conference Friday after a visit to a San Antonio VA facility, Gibson said the department will follow laws that forbid whistleblower retaliation.
He said employees of any organization need to feel they can speak out and Gibson warned against anything that would create a climate that would stifle that source. “I think that is wrong. It is absolutely unacceptable.” Gibson said.
“There have been questions raised about intimidation or even retaliation. There is a law that forbids that, and we’ll follow the law,” Gibson said.
He also expressed confidence that investigators will be able to ferret out the truth, regardless of any attempts to squelch potential whistleblowers.
“We have a pretty savvy IG (Inspector General). They are going to gather information from the bottom up,” he said. “These guys didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. These are professionals at their trade,” he added.
The scandal has centered on long patient waits for care and falsified records covering up delays at VA hospitals and clinics nationwide.
After a visit to a Phoenix VA facility on Thursday, Gibson said an additional 18 veterans whose names were kept off an official electronic VA appointment list have died and that he would ask the inspector general to see if there is any indication those deaths were related to long wait times. If so, they would reach out to those veterans’ families.