Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is backing a government watchdog’s refusal to hand over documents from potential whistleblowers to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
IAVA partnered with the Project on Government Oversight last month to launch the website VAOversight.org, and asked current and former VA employees to provide any information on abuses and mismanagement at VA medical facilities.
“Whistleblowers broke this scandal at VA initially and must be protected again now,” IAVA Chief Executive Officer Paul Rieckhoff said. “Ensuring they are protected is in the best interest of the VA, our veterans and our country."
The VA’s Inspector General subpoenaed all documents POGO had collected. The deadline for delivering the records passed on June 13 and POGO spokesman Joe Newman said the group has no intention of complying.
Rieckhoff said he was disappointed that the IG’s office is going after whistleblowers instead of focusing on fixing problems within the VA. He said the IG’s action could have “a chilling effect” on people who might otherwise come forward with information.
The IG’s investigation was sparked by whistleblower allegations to CNN in April that up to 40 veterans awaiting appointments with the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, may have died before seeing a doctor. It was also alleged that the backlog of veterans waiting for an appointment was so great that VA mangers and staff kept a secret wait list, moving names from it to the legitimate electronic list as space became available.
VA investigators subsequently confirmed the unauthorized list and said that 35 veterans who were on it died. The VA’s IG has expanded its investigation into appointment manipulation to 70 VA hospitals and clinics across the country and sharing its findings with the Justice Department, which could bring criminal charges against VA employees.
The IG’s spokeswoman told Military.com on Monday that the VA wants as much information as possible. It has already heard from potential witnesses but wants to compare its sources with those who contacted POGO.
“If we already have been contacted and they provided us with the same information, there is no issue,” Catherine Gromek said in an email. “If they contacted us and provided conflicting information, we need to resolve the conflict before relying on the information the individual provided us. If they have not contacted us and the information they provided POGO is relevant, we need to verify the information provided.
“The bottom line is that no one knows until we can compare the information,” she wrote.
Gromek said that while POGO may contact with people who reach out to it, the group “does not have any authority to obtain and review [privacy]-protected medical records, nor do they employ Federal criminal investigators.”
POGO spokesman Joe Newman told Military.com that the group is not doing anything more than The New York Times and The Washington Post have been doing – soliciting information from current and former VA employees – but does not believe the IG has demanded those outlets surrender any records.
Military.com asked Gromek if the IG has plans to subpoena any media outlets but she did not respond.