OSC helps VA whistleblowers retain jobs, regain reputations

By Sean McCalley
Federal News Radio

Twenty-five whistleblowers are receiving back pay and clear conduct records after an investigation into allegations of retribution at the Veterans Affairs Department.

The Office of Special Counsel negotiated settlements with the whistleblowers and the VA, after it found agency managers punished employees for reporting staffing issues, a slow response to a rape allegation and even nurses who fell asleep while watching over suicidal patients. The OSC commended both the whistleblowers and parts of VA leadership for their cooperation with the investigation.

Nurse Rachel Hogan told her supervisor at the VA medical center in Syracuse, New York, about a patient’s rape allegation against a VA employee. But the supervisor didn’t tell the police right away. Hogan tried to report about the delay, but that earned her threats of facing a review board and unemployment.

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Hogan also told her superior a nurse fell asleep twice while on suicide watch for a patient.

In April 2014, two supervisors told Hogan they were recommending her for a session with a review board in order to fire her. Later, they said the board would instead issue an “unsatisfactory proficiency report”, according to the OSC.

The OSC managed to not only delay the review, but won Hogan a transfer to another part of the medical center under different management and cleared her performance rating. The Syracuse medical center will also pay the OSC to conduct whistleblower protection training at the facility.

Fake performance reports

Nurse manager Colleen Elmers of the Spokane, Washington, medical center found her supervisor faked one of her employee’s performance evaluations. So she filed a complaint with the VA’s Office of Inspector General back in July 2014.

Elmers wound up taking a hit on her own performance evaluation. Her supervisor rated Elmers’ work as “unsatisfactory”, and said she showed “lack of candor, failure to follow instructions, and inappropriate behavior to a management official,” according to the OSC.

The supervisor also tried to fire her.

Working with the Merit Systems Protection Board, the OSC helped Elmers avoid termination.

Mark Tello first raised concerns about low staffing levels to his supervisor at the VA Medical Center in Saginaw, Michigan, back in August 2013. Tello told his manager the VAMC didn’t have enough manpower, which he said would cause delays in medical care.

For his actions, the manager tried to have Tello removed from the medical center altogether.

That was eventually reduced to a five-day suspension, according to the OSC. But the VA again tried to fire Tello almost exactly one year later.

OSC ultimately negotiated back pay for Tello’s suspension and a transfer to a new position under a different management team.

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