Lawmakers Back VA Whistleblower Who Claims He Was Harassed, Demoted

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa speaks during an election night rally, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa speaks during an election night rally, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

A Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblower, who claims his superiors retaliated against him for exposing the wait-times scandal, has been relocated to a new position within the department at the same pay.

Two Republican senators said Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez, a VA employee who was involved in exposing the doctoring of records at the Phoenix VA Medical Center in 2014, has been transferred to a different facility at the same pay grade.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said the VA initially offered to transfer Rodriguez, but only at a lower pay grade.

Grassley and Johnson wrote to then-VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin asking him to respond to allegations that Rodriguez had been the target of bullying for reporting "serious patient waitlist improprieties" at the Phoenix VA.

The ensuing scandal led to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff.

"The retaliation allegations included moving the whistleblower to a closet re-purposed as an office without proper air conditioning for almost two years, unlawful access of his medical records, verbal and physical threats of violence and bullying, the vandalizing of his car and an ordered appearance before a review board in an attempt to fire him," the two senators said.

"Whistleblowers play a critical role in exposing waste, fraud and abuse in federal agencies at an extreme personal risk. As a longtime advocate for transparency in government, I'm grateful for the work of Mr. Rodriguez," Grassley said.

A VA spokesman said the VA "worked with Mr. Rodriguez to transfer him into a new position at the same pay grade."

Rodriguez had been a scheduling manager for specialty care at the Phoenix VA.

"VA does not tolerate retaliation," the spokesman said. "Any employee who feels he or she is experiencing retaliation should contact the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection."

In a report released in October 2016, the VA Inspector General's Office (OIG) found that 215 veteran patients at the Phoenix VA were on wait list for appointment at the time of their deaths.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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