Chairman Johnson Criticizes Partisan Blocking of Critical Protection for VA Whistleblowers

WASHINGTON — A bill to protect federal employee whistleblowers from retaliation — a bill that won unanimous bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — was blocked Thursday by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

The bill, the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2015, would increase discipline for federal supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers, and it would prohibit Department of Veterans Affairs employees from accessing private medical records of fellow employees. Johnson, who sponsored the bill and shepherded it through the Homeland Security committee that he chairs, took to the Senate floor Thursday to seek unanimous consent for the bill from the full Senate on the day that marked seven years since Dr. Kirkpatrick’s death. Sen. Reid objected, halting the bill’s progress.

“Rather than protect our nation’s veterans, Senator Reid prefers to play election-year politics, using the finest among us as a political football,” said Johnson. “Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, a VA employee who spoke up about over-prescription of our veterans at the Tomah VA facility, faced such severe retaliation after blowing the whistle that he took his own life.  And this is how my colleagues on the other side honor him? It’s appalling to me that Senator Harry Reid would block this common sense bill when veterans’ lives hang in the balance. The finest among us — and the memory of Dr. Kirkpatrick — deserve better.”

Johnson had this to say on the floor regarding the bill:

“One of the individuals who blew the whistle on these problems was a psychologist at the Tomah VA named Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick. Whose portrait stands beside me. Chris came to Tomah in 2008. He treated veterans, the finest among us, for PTSD, substance abuse, and chronic pain.

“It didn’t take long for him to realize that something was not right.

“Chris told his family and union that he thought doctors were over-prescribing, over-medicating patients.

“The chief of staff at the facility was a doctor that had been known as the ‘candy man’ as far back as 2004 because of the amount of opiates he prescribed veterans.  When the ‘candy man’ found out that Chris was questioning his prescription practices, Chris was warned to stop.

“But rather than address Chris’s concerns, the VA fired him.

“Tragically, later the day that he was terminated, Chris committed suicide. 

“Chris’s managers later said they felt coerced into firing him. Yet no one ever investigated Chris’s suicide and the agency was never held accountable.”

VIDEO: Watch Chairman Johnson’s full remarks here.

  • Johnson also recently released a 359-page report on the systemic failures at the Tomah VA facility. The report can be found here.
  • The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously in December.
  • A copy of the legislation can be found here.