When investigators return to the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center next week, they’ll be interviewing 45 employees who had reached out to U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio with their concerns.
DeFazio, D-Springfield, said next week’s round of interviews will differ from last week’s, which focused on medical procedures.
Karl Tanner, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1042, which represents Roseburg VA employees, had expressed concern following the first round of visits that employees with complaints about harassment, intimidation and retaliation weren’t being heard.
DeFazio said mismanagement and retaliation will definitely be on the table next week, and investigators from the newly minted VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection will attend the interviews.
DeFazio has been unhappy with previous investigations at the Roseburg VA. In particular, he criticized what he said was the VA Inspector General’s “whitewashing” of the fact that colonoscopies were being performed improperly at the VA, and that the whistle-blowers who reported it were retaliated against. After a 17-month delay, the Office of Special Counsel ultimately vindicated the whistle-blowers.
This time, DeFazio said, there won’t be any whitewashing. He said he’s been told to expect a report from next week’s interviews around Thanksgiving.
“This is not going to be on the 17-month track,” he said.
A spokeswoman for DeFazio’s office said this morning that the Roseburg VA administration will not be given a list of the names of those who are interviewing, and the interviews will be confidential.
The employees interviewed as part of this investigation have been guaranteed secured rooms for the interviews, and will be informed of their rights to protection if management retaliates against them for participating, DeFazio said.
DeFazio said now that the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 has become law, they have protection. Supervisors who retaliate for whistle-blowing must be suspended on first offense and fired on the second under the law, which passed both House and Senate by unanimous vote and was signed by President Donald Trump on Oct. 26.
DeFazio said there’s enough of a spotlight on this issue now, that no administrators should be able to get by with retaliation. If supervisors retaliate, he said, “they will be gone.”
He also said he recommends union members invite their union representative to sit in on the interviews, so there’s an extra pair of eyes and ears there.
While some veterans have voiced support for the current Roseburg VA administration, DeFazio thinks there’s more to the story.
“Generally veterans are happy with the care that they get, but we want to make sure it’s the highest quality, and current, in terms of medical technology,” he said.
That hasn’t always been the case, he said.
“The check and balance on all of that is the professional employees themselves, who haven’t been given a full voice,” DeFazio said.
DeFazio said Roseburg VA Director Doug Paxton cited surveys showing the employees are happier, but he’s not convinced of that either.
“Boy, that’s not what my office has been hearing for the last five years, and when we have already had 45 people contact my office who want to be interviewed, it doesn’t sound like his surveys are too accurate,” he said.