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.