WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn released a comprehensive report Tuesday detailing numerous problems within the Veterans Affairs Department and called again for a policy that would allow veterans to receive reimbursed care from private physicians and hospitals.
The lengthy report — which combines findings from inspector general and media investigations with research by Coburn’s staff — also recommends that the VA fire “vindictive administrators” who take action against department whistleblowers.
“For decades, the VA has silenced, harassed, and retaliated against whistleblowers who were merely trying to fulfill the commitment to veterans that is the mission of the VA,” Coburn says in the report.
“Meanwhile others who cooked the books or abused their positions received financial bonuses and other rewards. This inverse scale of rewards and punishment must end.”
Coburn, R-Muskogee, released the report a day after the U.S. Special Counsel’s office sent President Barack Obama a letter detailing “some troubling patterns of responses” by the VA to whistleblower allegations.
According to the letter, from Carolyn N. Lerner, schedulers at a VA facility in Fort Collins, Colo., “were instructed to alter wait times (for appointments) to make their waiting periods look shorter.”
The special counsel’s office is investigating allegations that two schedulers were reassigned to Wyoming for not complying with instructions to “zero out” wait times, Lerner told Obama.
Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed not only in the substantiation of allegations raised by whistleblowers, but also in the failures within VA to take whistleblower complaints seriously.”
“As I told our workforce, intimidation or retaliation — not just against whistleblowers, but against any employee who raises a hand to identify a problem, make a suggestion, or report what may be a violation in law, policy, or our core values — is absolutely unacceptable,” Gibson said.
Wide range of problems
Coburn’s report covers a wide range of medical and administrative problems at the VA; many of those problems have existed for decades, the report says, and have been addressed with legislaton previously.
Coburn says Congress doesn’t follow up to make sure the VA is following the law and ensuring quality care.