Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson speaks to the media during a visit to the Audie L. Murphy VA Medical Center on June 6 in San Antonio. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson promised VA employees that whistleblowers will not face harassment or punishment for reporting misbehavior in the department.
But their supervisors might.
“I want to make clear that intimidation or retaliation against whistleblowers — or any employee who raises a hand to identify a legitimate problem, make a suggestion, or report what may be a violation of law, policy, or our core values — is absolutely unacceptable,” he said in a departmental message. “I will not tolerate it.”
Gibson said protecting those employees is “a moral obligation of VA leaders, a statutory obligation, and a priority for this department.”
He promised disciplinary action against any employees seeking to punish whistleblowers, saying those voices are needed to help improve department practices.
The message came two weeks after Gibson took over as head of VA after former Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid multiple whistleblower reports nationwide that highlighted serious problems in VA medical appointment wait times.
It also came eight days after the Office of Special Counsel announced it was investigating 37 cases of VA whistleblowers who were punished by supervisors for speaking out, and 49 other cases in which department employees reported unknown problems related to a host of patient safety issues.
This week, several lawmakers charged that local VA supervisors have moved to silence or discourage employees from talking both to the media and Congress about problems at their facilities.
In the message, Gibson said he expects all VA workers to “bring to the attention of their managers and supervisors shortcomings in the delivery of our services to veterans or any perceived violations of law or official wrongdoing, including gross waste, fraud, or abuse of authority.”
Without that information, he said, “problems can lead to and encourage improper and unethical actions.”
Gibson added any employees who believe they have been the target of whistleblower reprisal should contact appropriate authorities, including VA’s Office of Inspector General, Office of Special Counsel, Merit Systems Protection Board or their member of Congress.