VA Undecided on Legal Action Against POGO

VA building

The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General's Office has yet to respond to a whistleblower group's failure to turn over information it collected about alleged fraud and abuse at VA medical facilities.

And there is no indication when or even if it will seek a judicial ruling that Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, is in violation of the subpoena.

"No decision has been made," IG spokeswoman Catherine Gromek told Military.com.

The VA's investigative arm ordered POGO to surrender the information more than two months ago, on June 13, as part of its own investigation into the appointment wait-times scandal that has shaken the VA.

At least 35 veterans linked to a secret wait list at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, died, and officials have said any found to have deliberately skewed appointment times could face criminal charges. The IG's investigation now extends to about 70 VA facilities across the country.
 
The VA IG said in it wants to compare its list of sources and information to POGO's, but the whistleblower group refuses to release its information.

"We haven't heard a peep from the VA" since the subpoena deadline passed, POGO spokesman Joe Newman told Military.com. "I know they have a lot going on over there, but no clue if they've been told to drop it or will show up one day with a court order [for the documents] ... I don't think it's a fight they want to pursue, but who knows?"

POGO began collecting information in May after joining with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to set up VAOversight.org. The site links to an IAVA page where veterans can report problems they have had with VA health care and to a POGO site for reporting allegations of waste, fraud and abuse.

IAVA and POGO both promised anonymity to those who contact them.

The subpoena was issued only against POGO. IAVA has continued to stand by the whistleblower group.

"The original plan was to divide up [the responses]," Newman said. "We would handle the employees and former employees, and the veterans with problems ... we would hand those people off [to IAVA]."

Before POGO could turn over to IAVA the names and contact information on some 800 veterans, however, the IG issued its subpoena. POGO decided then to keep the contacts in-house.

"It must have been frustrating for them" after making the effort to contact POGO, he said. "We told them to contact IAVA on their own, or we sent them an email with different points of contact" for information on care and support.

"We don't think the IG is out to punish whistleblowers. That's not our position," Newman said. The group supports the work of the IG, but is not comfortable providing it with information.  Notwithstanding the IG's statutory commitment to confidentiality, Newman said the law also allows the IG to disclose information if he determines it is unavoidable.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@monster.com

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Department of Veteran Affairs VA Claims and Appeals Bryant Jordan
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