VA failed to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation

WASHINGTON - MARCH 09:  The seal of the F.B.I. hangs in the Flag Room at the bureau's headquaters March 9, 2007 in Washington, DC. F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller was responding to a report by the Justice Department inspector general that concluded the FBI had committed 22 violations in its collection of information through the use of national security letters. The letters, which the audit numbered at 47,000 in 2005, allow the agency to collect information like telephone, banking and e-mail records without a judicially approved subpoena.   (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON - MARCH 09: The seal of the F.B.I. hangs in the Flag Room at the bureau's headquaters March 9, 2007 in Washington, DC. F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller was responding to a report by the Justice Department inspector general that concluded the FBI had committed 22 violations in its collection of information through the use of national security letters. The letters, which the audit numbered at 47,000 in 2005, allow the agency to collect information like telephone, banking and e-mail records without a judicially approved subpoena. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Department of Veterans Affairs failed to properly protect whistle-blowers and investigate their complaints, according to a new report.

An Inspector General investigation examined the Office of Accountability and Whistle-blower Protection (OAWP) at the VA.

"The OAWP failed to fully protect whistle-blowers from retaliation," Inspector General for the VA, Michael Missal, said during testimony to a House committee Thursday. "VA employees who identify serious misconduct must feel protected when coming forward with complaints."

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"There was a culture of fear that was created by the processes," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL 23rd District) said.

Dr. Tamara Bonzanto, Assistant Secretary of the OAWP said she flagged major problems created under the previous leadership which she has since changed.

Bonzanto pointed to investigative reports without witness interviews, a backlog of 572 cases dating back to 2017 and a list kept on the whistle-blowers.

"This list contained detailed information about allegations raised by individuals and OAWP staff opinion about the individuals and their allegations," Bonzanto said.

Bonzanto said the OAWP has created smaller investigative teams to improve oversight and started a quality control team to independently review whistle-blower complaints.

Bonzanto said the goal is reduce the backlog of 572 cases to 120 by the end of next year.

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