WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, attending a hearing this week titled, “Improving VA Accountability: Examining First-Hand Accounts of Department of Veterans Affairs Whistleblowers.” The hearing examined whistleblower claims involving the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the process by which the VA Inspector General’s Office (VA IG) and Office of Special Counsel (OSC) review such claims.
“As I have seen in Tomah, Wisconsin, and indeed the rest of the nation, the role of whistleblowers is critical – in fact heroic – in terms of steering us to running an effective organization. Agencies simply need to be much more open to accepting constructive criticism in order to improve – especially an agency such as VA – which has the tremendously important mission of taking care of our veterans,” said Senator Baldwin. “More must be done to change the status quo. We must build a VA that embraces rather than retaliates against whistleblowers who want to improve the system. We need to ensure that any whistleblower, whether they have been at the VA for ten days, ten months or ten years, has the same protections. If you are blowing the whistle on wrongdoing at the VA, you deserve to be protected and empowered. That is why I am currently working on legislation that will empower every employee at the VA with the same protections, including whistleblowers in their first year of employment.”
In the coming weeks, Senator Baldwin plans to introduce legislation that would advance the following reforms:
- extend whistleblower protection for temporary or probationary employees;
- protect those whistleblowers forced to resign due to hostile work conditions;
- create a training program to ensure that supervisors within each agency understand the roles and responsibilities of supervisors in protecting whistleblowers’ rights;
- require an annual training of supervisors;
- mandate an annual training of each agency employee regarding the treatment of whistleblower complaints; and
- instruct agency heads to publish on their website, and display prominently at each facility of the agency, the whistleblower rights of employees and how to file a whistleblower complaint.
Sean Kirkpatrick, brother of Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, a psychologist who committed suicide after he was fired from the Tomah VA Medical Center in 2009, was among those who testified at this week’s hearing. READ Mr. Kirkpatrick’s testimony here.