VA’s Ability to Comply with Executive Order Hindered by Its Destructive Whistleblower Policies

On August 31, President Obama issued an executive order calling for improved access to mental health care services for veterans and their families, including additional mental health staff to ensure that all veterans in crisis receive care within 24 hours.

However, the American Federation of Government Employees has also issued a statement, calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to tighten their management and end retaliation against whistleblowers in order to ensure that the department can follow through on this important directive.

In a recent statement, AFGE National President J. David Cox comments, “The President’s executive order goes to great lengths to improve the mental health care services available to our nation’s heroes, but we are extremely concerned that the VA will be unable to deliver on these standards.”

“We are currently fighting for whistleblower protections for a post-traumatic stress disorder specialist at the Wilmington, Del. VA facility who continues to face intense retaliation for testifying before Congress about mismanagement and lack of mental health care access for vets. At a time when thousands of our men and women are returning from the battlefield in need of mental health services, we cannot afford to silence VA employees who speak up for their patients.” (bolded by editor)

On the eve of her Senate testimony on understaffing and improper accounting measures regarding PTSD treatment of veterans, Dr. Michelle Washington had her personnel evaluation changed and lowered. Her job duties were subsequently radically changed, which means that veterans must now travel much further for PTSD evaluations. Her fellow union members also have faced other adverse actions as part of what appears to be a coordinated pattern of retaliation for bringing to light mismanagement at the VA. (bolded by editor)

“The VA must make meaningful changes in eradicating agency mismanagement, whistleblower retaliation and take strides in supporting its workforce providing world-class care to our nation’s veterans,” said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee. “The President’s executive order looks to increase the number of mental health care professionals at the VA, but this cannot be done if the agency continues down this path of employee intimidation and misappropriation of vital resources.”

Cox has written a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki asking for his immediate action in ending the retaliatory actions taken against psychologist Dr. Michelle Washington.

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