VA whistle-blowers receive settlements for retaliation

We haven’t heard anything on the debacle at the Veterans Administration in a while, but it’s refreshing to see that when it made it back into the news it was for something good. Three of the original whistle blowers at the Phoenix VA medical center have been granted an undisclosed settlement for the retaliation they suffered for speaking out about abuse in the system.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has come to terms with three Phoenix whistle-blowers who filed retaliation complaints after helping expose mismanagement and health-care breakdowns in the Phoenix VA medical center.

The trio — Dr. Katherine Mitchell, Paula Pedene and Damian Reese — accepted mostly confidential settlements for demotions and harassment they suffered at the hands of VA administrators after exposing delays in patient care, fraudulent wait-time data, bullying and other misconduct.

In a news release, VA Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner praised all three whistle-blowers, saying they “followed their consciences and reported wrongdoing, and their efforts have improved care and accountability. … I applaud the VA’s leadership for taking actions quickly to reverse these (retaliation) cases and concrete steps to change the VA’s culture,” she added. “The settlements allow these courageous employees to return to successful careers.”

This is an important story to get out to the public for two very different reasons. One, of course, is that these workers deserve every consideration they received for bringing the story to light. Hopefully they will all be able to get their lives back on track. Pedene will move on to be a national program specialist for the Veterans Health Administration communications office. Mitchell is being promoted to a senior role at the VA’s Southwest regional office

But far more important is the message it sends to others out there who may be working in the public sector and seeing abuse and corruption but fear for their own livelihoods and don’t want to come forward. The earlier lesson they may have learned was a very negative one. Pedene was the subject of a criminal and administrative investigation after she spoke up. Mitchell was transferred and received an official reprimand. Small wonder that others in agencies across the government wouldn’t wish to raise their hands and speak seeing what happened to these three. But with this correction we can hope that others will find the confidence to say something if they’ve seen something.