WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is calling for answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on what it is doing to protect whistleblowers after recent reports of increased whistleblower retaliation at the agency.
“Whistleblower retaliation is never acceptable, but it’s especially concerning when it gets in the way of veterans’ care,” McCaskill said. “Millions of veterans have put their lives on the line for our country, but then struggle to receive healthcare services at the VA once they come home. Whistleblowers play a key role in identifying problems at the VA—and it is imperative that they feel comfortable shining a light on misconduct and abuse.”
A recent Washington Post story detailed the experiences of two VA doctors who came forward as whistleblowers and continue to face retaliation despite the creation of a new department at the agency responsible for handling whistleblower retaliation claims. President Trump established the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) in April, and Congress made the office permanent in June. “I am troubled by recent reports that, despite being given more tools and guidance, VA is failing to treat claims of retaliation appropriately,” McCaskill wrote in a letter to the VA Secretary. She requested information from the VA on what the agency has done to address concerns over weak whistleblower protections, how the OAWP protects whistleblower confidentiality, and how the OAWP processes and investigates whistleblower claims.
The daughter of a World War II veteran, McCaskill has long been an advocate for veterans in Missouri and nationwide. After a whistleblower exposed problems with construction at the Jefferson Barracks campus of the VA St. Louis Health Care System, McCaskill called for an investigation into the facility’s construction and answers on what the agency’s Inspector General is doing more broadly to improve oversight over major construction projects. McCaskill is also seeking answers from the VA after a recent report finding that thousands of servicemembers with PTSD or other mental health conditions who received “other than honorable” discharges were potentially barred from receiving mental healthcare and other benefits. McCaskill has also called for answers on the VA’s efforts to cut down on fraud, waste, and abuse after a former contractor at the John Cochran Division of the VA St. Louis Health Care System pled guilty to a federal conspiracy charge of taking kickbacks worth nearly $270,000.
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). 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 the VA Secretary HERE.