It’s a rare day when we have a story about the Veterans Administration which winds up focusing on some good news. No… before you get your hopes up, the agency has not been fixed. But there is at least one small sliver of justice coming down the pike which might begin to make the entire ordeal seem worth the battles involved. It seems that the people who blew the whistle on the agency’s corrupt, failed practices and were later punished for doing so are getting some measure of restitution for their trials. (From the WaPo)
These whistleblowers have now been exonerated by the office that investigates claims of retaliation against federal employees. The Office of Special Counsel announced this week that it has smoothed the way for the Department of Veterans Affairs to make amends to Thompson, Christensen and Honl with monetary settlements, reinstatements to their jobs and by purging their records of negative claims.
“Rather than silencing the messenger, supervisors can use disclosures as opportunities to address problems,” Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said in a statement. “It’s an important sign of progress that the VA settled these cases and provided relief to the employees who suffered retaliation.”
The employees, who shared harrowing experiences with investigators of being ostracized, harassed and punished for reporting their concerns about mismanagement, have plenty of company. The special counsel’s office says it has helped more than 45 whistleblowers with claims of retaliation by VA in the last two years, by getting their jobs back and, in some cases, securing compensatory damages.
Most of the people involved are ones that we’ve discussed here in the past. Troy Thompson was the man who reported that the kitchen at the facility where he worked (and where food for wounded warriors was prepared) was infested with flies and pests. For his trouble he was reassigned to the janitorial staff. Ryan Honl was the guy who reported that vets were being overly medicated with prescription opiates and developing addiction problems. He was removed from duty and locked out of his office shortly afterward. And Joseph Christensen reported that his boss had been arrested for drunk driving and drug possession. He was simply fired.
According to this update, both Thompson and Christensen are back at their old positions (or on the way there) and receiving compensatory remuneration. Honl was not only returned to duty, but the agreement included removing negative information from his personnel file and an award of monetary damages.
We’d probably have known a lot more about the abuses going on at the VA much sooner if more people had been willing to speak up, but it’s understandable that they would be afraid to when they saw what happened to their colleagues. It’s easy to say that people need to do the right thing and take a stand, but when the system can hold your very livelihood in a vice and basically end your career and put you out on the streets, that’s an awfully big hammer to have hanging over your head. But if any good has come of this beyond better treatment for veterans, other employees might see the positive outcome for these whistleblowers and not be so afraid to raise the alarm when they see abuse taking place. It’s a rare case where the media is actually doing some good and the workers can at least have the hope that the public will be on their side, with some transparency assured in the proceedings.
Or at least we can hope so. It’s hard to slay a monster that size. Just look at the IRS and how little has changed there in the past few years.