Congress remembers a whistleblower

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The Veterans Administration (“VA”) is the most notorious anti-whistleblower federal agency in the U.S. government. Recent statistics paint a dangerous and hostile picture for any VA employee who reports patient abuse. Over 30 percent of all federal employee whistleblower cases come out of the VA, and in 2016 alone over 1,100 retaliation cases were filed by VA employees with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

Behind these numbers are real people, suffering for doing the right thing. One was Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, a clinical psychologist whose first job out of school was at the VA Medical Center in Tomah, Wis. Dr. Kirkpatrick witnessed patient abuse. Patients were being over-medicated. Dr. Kirkpatrick did the right thing, and blew the whistle, properly raising his concern at a patient-care meeting with other doctors. Retaliation was swift.He was called into a disciplinary meeting, handed a written reprimand, and warned to stop further criticisms of the agency.Dr. Kirkpatrick didn’t stop. After being disciplined for reporting patient abuse, he again wrote to his supervisor, reporting problems with patient medication. Three months later he was fired from his job. After learning of his termination, Dr. Kirkpatrick went home and committed suicide.

Eventually, an investigation into the over-medication of patients at the Tomah VA proved that Dr. Kirkpatrick was right. The VA found “unsafe clinical practices” with opiates being prescribed at two-and-one-half the times the national average. No investigation was conducted over Dr. Kirkpatrick’s retaliation.

On May 25, 2017, the U.S. Senate passed the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Act and one month later the bill was introduced into the House by Congressman Sean Duffy (R-Wis.). The bill contains several important reforms, protecting probationary employees (like Dr. Kirkpatrick), prohibiting federal managers from improperly accessing the medical files of whistleblowers, mandating discipline against managers who retaliate and requiring that all supervisors receive trainings on the rights of employees to report waste, fraud and abuse. But the bill does something much more than enhance whistleblower protections. By honoring Dr. Kirkpatrick, the bill calls attention to the financial, emotional, and personal hardship faced by whistleblowers.

Read more at The Hill
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