NYT: VA went after whistleblowers in a big way before wait-list scandal exploded

The VA has retaliated against whistleblowers for years, reports the New York Times today, keeping the lid on a corrupt environment through fear and attacks on credibility.  Despite whistleblower protections and a public commitment to transparency from the Obama administration, VA management intimidated employees into silence and punished others who tried to tough it out, including firing them from their jobs. Now that the ugly secret of rampant fraud and abuse have become public, current and former employees are speaking on the record to the culture of corruption and intimidation endured throughout the agency.

Note the timing suggested by the NYT, though:

Staff members at dozens of Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country have objected for years to falsified patient appointment schedules and other improper practices, only to be rebuffed, disciplined or even fired after speaking up, according to interviews with current and former staff members and internal documents. …

In interviews with The New York Times, a half-dozen current and former staff members — four doctors, a nurse and an office manager in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Alaska — said they faced retaliation for reporting systemic problems. Their accounts, some corroborated by internal documents, portray a culture of silence and intimidation within the department and echo experiences detailed by other V.A. personnel in court filings, government investigations and congressional testimony, much of it largely unnoticed until now.

The department has a history of retaliating against whistle-blowers, which Sloan D. Gibson, the acting V.A. secretary, acknowledged this month at a news conference in San Antonio. “I understand that we’ve got a cultural issue there, and we’re going to deal with that cultural issue,” said Mr. Gibson, who replaced Eric K. Shinseki after Mr. Shinseki resigned over the scandal last month. Punishing whistle-blowers is “absolutely unacceptable,” Mr. Gibson said.

The federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates whistle-blower complaints, is examining 37 claims of retaliation by V.A. employees in 19 states, and recently persuaded the V.A. to drop the disciplining of three staff members who had spoken out. Together with reports to other watchdog agencies and the Times interviews, the accounts by V.A. whistle-blowers cover several dozen hospitals, with complaints dating back seven years or longer.

“Seven years or longer” would drop the whole mess into the Bush administration. Of course, the problem with this argument is that George Bush stopped being President five and a half years ago, and even then the problems at the VA were so obvious that they became a campaign issue in 2007-8. Barack Obama pledged the “most transparent administration ever” during his primary and general-election campaigns and attacked the Bush administration’s handling of the VA (as did John McCain, the Republican nominee). The Obama administration received warnings as far back as the 2008-9 post-election transition that wait times were being manipulated to hide poor response, and then warned repeatedly after that to look into the issue, including one internal memo in 2010.

What did Obama do to fulfill his campaign pledge? He demanded more resources, which Congress supplied — increasing the VA budget more on a percentage basis than any other Cabinet agency (78%), with an extra $235 billion over and above the FY2008 budget baseline. Obama also insisted that Eric Shinseki was the man to put discipline into the VA’s bureaucracy. And after that, Obama washed his hands of the VA, rarely meeting with Shinseki on his own; the last such meeting before the scandal broke was in July 2012.

The problem at the VA today isn’t what happened “seven or more years ago.” It’s that the current administration had five and a half years to fix it, got an avalanche of spending with which to do so, got the people it wanted in key executive positions, and yet did nothing to fix the problems facing our nation’s veterans nor the honest people who wanted real change in their work environments on behalf of their captive consumers. It’s yet another reminder that we can’t trust the current administration to make a single-payer system any more responsive to internal or external customers, and that the only way to force changes in the VA is to open the system up to real choice for its consumers based on their own volition, rather than the same corrupt metrics that just got exposed as a systemic — and deadly — fraud.

But now, of course, the VA is focused like a laser on their problems. Right? Er … no:

Priorities, priorities. That’s the point of Remy’s latest video, too, presented by our friends at Reason:

Tell ’em, man … wait, what?