WASHINGTON – After U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill’s call for an investigation into whistleblower complaints about the contractor working on construction of a new clinic building and medical rehabilitation facility on the Jefferson Barracks campus of the VA St. Louis Health Care System, the VA’s Inspector General has responded after the Inspector General directed the VA to investigate and the investigation substantiated those complaints. The Inspector General has vowed to closely track the VA’s remediation efforts.
In a letter to the VA Secretary, McCaskill is now demanding answers on those remediation efforts and fighting to ensure that all costs associated with remediation are paid for by the contractor and not passed on to taxpayers. McCaskill also praised the whistleblower cited in the VA’s investigation for identifying the problems associated with the contract.
“The contractor violated the contract on this construction project and it’s the contractor’s responsibility to resolve these issues—it would be completely unacceptable for the VA to allow them to pass these costs along to taxpayers,” said McCaskill, former Missouri State Auditor. “This is another example of exactly why we need to encourage and protect whistleblowers, who are often our first and last line of defense when it comes to exposing problems.”
The VA investigation substantiated multiple allegations raised by the whistleblower including: Two full-time personnel who were listed as a part of the VA’s contract with Walsh-Alberici were not present on the project, the Project Superintendent was not able to be on site until five months after the project started—even though the contract stated otherwise—and signatures provided by the Quality Control Manager stated that he reviewed contract materials, even though he was on an international vacation on the dates of signature.
“[The VA’s Construction and Facilities Management (CFM)] has issued a number of corrective actions to address these allegations…CFM has also stated that in the case of lost taxpayer dollars due to contract violations, future payments to Walsh-Alberici may be withheld until the debt is paid,” McCaskill wrote. “While these are all promising steps, construction quality management has long been an issue at the VA.”
The daughter of a World War II veteran, McCaskill has a long history of standing up for veterans and protecting whistleblowers who identify waste, fraud, and abuse. Aiming to continue improvements to the quality of customer service at statewide VA facilities, McCaskill created a “secret-shopper program,” the Veterans’ Customer Satisfaction Program, which allows veterans to share timely, confidential feedback about their VA health care visits, and helps provide oversight and accountability for VA health care facilities. The program is now active in five regions: St. Louis; Kansas City; Columbia; Poplar Bluff; Southwest Missouri (Fayetteville). McCaskill has also previously introduced legislation that would require the firing of any Veterans Affairs employee found to have retaliated against a whistleblower. Last year, following advocacy from McCaskill and more than one-thousand rural veterans in Missouri, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would expand the hours of operation at the Salem Veterans Clinic to be open Monday through Friday.
Read McCaskill’s letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin HERE.