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house Bill H.R. 571

Preventing Retaliation Against Whistleblowers at the VA

Argument in favor

Whistleblowers are often the only source of information about misconduct in the government, and they may not come forward if they suspect they’ll be retaliated against. This would improve transparency, and be help the VA in the long-term.

Michelle's Opinion
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11/18/2016
Whistleblowers need to be protected. Being retaliated against just because you speak out against unethical or illegal practices is not okay. The fact that multiple VA employees won settlements due to being whistleblowers and being internally punished is evidence that there needs to be more protections afforded to people who are brave enough to speak out against an oppressive system. The US doesn't do enough to protect the brave men and women who speak truth against the government; that needs to change if we are to be truly free.
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Paul's Opinion
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09/01/2015
Don't let bureaucracies crush the people who show integrity
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John's Opinion
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11/18/2016
Seriously? We must protect anyone who highlights wrong doing in such a sensitive organization.
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Argument opposed

Protecting whistleblowers needs to be done, but at the same time meteing out such severe punishment to supervisors that retaliate seems like it will make the VA run less efficiently.

Nicole's Opinion
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11/18/2016
I support true Whistleblowers being protected but there are times (such as the recent incident with the Peer Specialist in Colorado) where they are whistleblowing with inaccurate information. I think they should receive temporary protection during the investigation but if their claims are mostly inaccurate then they do not receive full protection. I have had some exposure to discrimination claims and the majority of the time the employee is disgruntled and misinformed.
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EricSchmeltzer's Opinion
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08/23/2015
I am all for whistleblower protections, but not ones only targeted at agencies the GOP wants to kill off. Make this blanket protection for whistleblowers at all agencies and government offices and I'd likely consider supporting it.
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Mamawolfen68's Opinion
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11/18/2016
This seems to be more in reaction to specific situations than pragmatically enforcing existing protections. Also, the response time frames seem very demanding, which might impede appropriate investigation and decision making.
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What is House Bill H.R. 571?

This bill would offer increased protections to employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) who file whistleblower complaints about misconduct within the agency.


Within two days of receiving the complaint, the whistleblowing employee’s supervisor must determine if there has been a violation of a law, rule, or regulation, gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or substantial danger to public health and safety.

If the supervisor fails to respond to the employee’s complaint within that time frame or take satisfactory action in correcting the problem, the employee may bring their complaint to the next level of authority beyond their direct supervisor. The supervisor at the level above the employee’s direct supervisor would have the same two day timeframe to address the issue.

A whistleblower could continue to file complaints, moving up each level of the VA’s management hierarchy until they eventually reach the VA Secretary.

Employees who receive notice that their whistleblower complaint was valid would be required to be informed by the VA Secretary of their ability to volunteer for a transfer to a different department. They would also be granted preference in obtaining the transfer.

VA employees who retaliate against whistleblowers would be subject to the following punishments by the VA Secretary:

  • A suspension of at least 14 days and not more than a removal from their position for a first offense.

  • Removal from their position for a second offense.

  • A fee charged that takes into account the costs incurred by the federal government because of the personnel action.

After being notified that they will be the subject of a punishment for retaliation, an employee must dispute the claim within five days.

The VA Secretary would be empowered to deny bonuses or awards to supervisors who have committed personnel actions covered by this legislation, or fail to comply with the procedures for dealing with whistleblower complaints.

There would also be annual training regarding whistleblower complaints, merit system protection, and whistleblower rights would be prominently displayed on the VA’s website and its facilities.

Impact

VA employees -- particularly whistleblowers, VA supervisors, the VA Secretary.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 571

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-Depth: Following the scandal surrounding the VA’s wait-lists for veterans seeking medical care, whistleblowers began coming forward in the latter part of 2013. But rather than being treated with respect and having their concerns addressed, whistleblowers faced reprisals that endangered their jobs. More than two dozen whistleblowers have won settlements against the VA for their treatment.

An example of this retribution by supervisors against whistleblowers came at an employee meeting at the Denver VA Hospital, where a supervisor is alleged to have told employees that “Once you talk to the media, you are on your own. The VA does not support you. Once you are in hot water, nobody will help you.”

Another VA employee received an email warning him that he must attend an Administration Investigation Board meeting after speaking to Fox News, and sign a nondisclosure agreement. While this was transpiring, the White House Office of Special Counsel was investigating his whistleblower case.

For its part, the VA thinks that current whistleblower protections are good enough to promote the transparency the VA needs to reform its services. It has said that the provisions safeguarding whistleblowers in the bill would be “unworkable” and that “we believe these current whistleblower protections are effective.”

This bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), responded to the VA’s actions, saying that:

“Even though Sec. McDonald says VA will not tolerate retaliation against whistleblowers, the fact remains the department still has much more work to do when it comes to fully addressing this issue.”

Media:

Summary by Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Flickr user MarineCorps NewYork)

AKA

Veterans Affairs Retaliation Prevention Act of 2015

Official Title

To amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the treatment of whistleblower complaints by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on Oversight and Reform
      Economic Opportunity
      Oversight and Investigations
      Committee on Veterans' Affairs
    IntroducedJanuary 27th, 2015
    Whistleblowers need to be protected. Being retaliated against just because you speak out against unethical or illegal practices is not okay. The fact that multiple VA employees won settlements due to being whistleblowers and being internally punished is evidence that there needs to be more protections afforded to people who are brave enough to speak out against an oppressive system. The US doesn't do enough to protect the brave men and women who speak truth against the government; that needs to change if we are to be truly free.
    Like (33)
    Follow
    Share
    I support true Whistleblowers being protected but there are times (such as the recent incident with the Peer Specialist in Colorado) where they are whistleblowing with inaccurate information. I think they should receive temporary protection during the investigation but if their claims are mostly inaccurate then they do not receive full protection. I have had some exposure to discrimination claims and the majority of the time the employee is disgruntled and misinformed.
    Like (10)
    Follow
    Share
    Don't let bureaucracies crush the people who show integrity
    Like (22)
    Follow
    Share
    Seriously? We must protect anyone who highlights wrong doing in such a sensitive organization.
    Like (6)
    Follow
    Share
    I am all for whistleblower protections, but not ones only targeted at agencies the GOP wants to kill off. Make this blanket protection for whistleblowers at all agencies and government offices and I'd likely consider supporting it.
    Like (6)
    Follow
    Share
    Transparency in our government agencies is paramount. The VA is a service to our men and women of our military. They should be able to call out waste, fraud, and abuse at any time without fear of retribution.
    Like (5)
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    Always protect those working to expose corruption.
    Like (4)
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    We live in a time where whistle blowers are punished and criminals are given a cushy early retirement. Obviously, in cases such as these, we need to step in
    Like (4)
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    This seems to be more in reaction to specific situations than pragmatically enforcing existing protections. Also, the response time frames seem very demanding, which might impede appropriate investigation and decision making.
    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
    Whistleblowers are very useful in exposing incompetence and corruption. Such activity should be protected and encouraged.
    Like (3)
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    Why is this not already a thing?
    Like (3)
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    We have seen enough evidence thanks to whistleblowers that the VA ought to be spun off to private facilities and remain only the funding source for Vets' treatments. We owe those whistleblowers whatever job security they previously had during the transition.
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    We need to protect our whistleblowers.
    Like (2)
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    Whistleblowers need to be protected so they can feel comfortable coming forward to report fraud, waste, or abuse in the VA system without fear of retaliation or losing their job. Given the issues with the VA leadership over past couple years, there's obviously a fear for employees to speak up and report things.
    Like (2)
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    Protect those who wish to expose corruption in our government is for America a high priority therefore we have freedom of the press
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    They laid there life on the line and should be fully protected.
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    We need whistleblowers in VA. These people risked their jobs to serve our vets. Supervisors who retaliate should be dealt with harshly.
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    No, there is a better way. Give them retirement with full benefits. Saves protection costs and political fighting.
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    Of course they should be protected! They're doing a service for veterans in for a country.
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    When telling the truth is considered a crime you are ruled by criminals! -someone
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