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Why are 10 Percent of Death Row Inmates Veterans? Maybe because Veterans Affairs’ Employee- Whistleblowers are being MOBBED!!

Alan Hyde is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System. He served in Operation Desert Storm, where he suffered an in-service leg injury. But it’s his time with the Central Alabama VA, he says, that has left him more rattled, frustrated and angry.

“It’s a toxic environment there,” Hyde says. “And I feel sorry for the veterans.”

Hyde is both a patient and a former employee at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System in Montgomery. He supervised employees who took vets for treatment outside the VA. Hyde was fired after six months for unspecified misconduct. He is among dozens of people who say they faced vicious retaliation when they tried to improve conditions there or hold managers accountable.

More than 30 current and former VA employees spoke to NPR. They include doctors, nurses and administrators — many of them veterans themselves. All describe an entrenched management culture that uses fear and intimidation to prevent potential whistleblowers from talking.

“If you say anything about patient care and the problems, you’re quickly labeled a troublemaker and attacked by a clique that just promotes itself. Your life becomes hell,” one longtime employee at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, or CAVHCS, told NPR. Like many we interviewed there, she requested anonymity out of fear for her job.

The problems are especially acute at hospital complexes in Montgomery and Tuskegee, Ala., which are part of a regional network known as VA Southeast Network VISN 7. The Department of Veterans Affairs divides veterans’ health care into 21 geographic regions called VISNs.

Workers say the retaliatory tactics run the gamut from sophomoric (a shift manager pouring salt into a subordinate’s coffee cup) to hard-to-fathom (isolation rooms used as psychological coercion) and more.

“There’s no accountability,” Hyde says. “And it’s gonna be a never-ending cycle here until someone steps in and starts cleaning house from the top and putting people in who care about the veterans.”

But neither those charged with federal oversight nor the VA itself has taken those steps, months or even years after the first complaints were reported.

Investigation Into The VA Reveals A Culture Of Retaliation Against Whistleblowers

Alan Hyde

Hyde, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is both a patient and former employee of the Central Alabama VA. “It’s a toxic environment there,” he says.

Cynthia Chavez

Chavez, a retired U.S. Army colonel, was forced out as head of food and nutrition in Montgomery and Tuskegee after an impeccable career in the Army and the VA.

Dr. Julian Kassner

Kassner is a U.S. Navy-trained physician. He was hired by the Central Alabama VA to clean up the radiology department.

Sheila Walsh

Walsh was HR director and a 20-year U.S. Army veteran. She says she was retaliated against when she questioned the treatment of whistleblowers.

VISN 7 leads the VA in the number of whistleblower complaints per veteran served. The VA itself leads all federal agencies in the number of whistleblowers who say they’ve been retaliated against — up to 40 percent annually, according to federal testimony. Two nonprofit groups that support whistleblowers say the number of retaliation cases they see from the VA is far higher.

In the case of Central Alabama, NPR’s investigation found that senior leadership subjected employees who spoke up to similar patterns of punishment:

Physical isolation and verbal abuse.
Bullying in and outside the workplace.
Counter-investigations that blamed the employees for creating a “hostile work environment” or other vague and often unspecified charges.
Why are conditions so bad in Central Alabama? Watchdog groups and affected workers believe it’s a combination of weak, inconsistent enforcement of whistleblower protection laws, a senior managerial culture that practices and condones bullying, and a VA system that too often sends whistleblower grievances right back to regional managers who are often part of the original complaints….

“Toxic, dysfunction and out of control is an understatement. There are people at the senior level there that consider themselves the equivalent of a ‘made man’ in the mafia, that there are no rules that apply to them up to and including fraud and record falsification,” he says. “How this is allowed to go on is just mind boggling.”…

“It’s a kind of psychological violence,” she says, tearing up over the loss of her Army service mementos. “I feel violated. I feel like someone robbed me.”…

“Basically we call it putting the whistleblowers in professional solitary confinement,” says Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project. He says it’s a tactic long used by some VA managers to try to crush whistleblowers. “Keep them away from the evidence, make them pariahs among their peers. Make an example out of them. Generally the rooms where these people are assigned to bounce off the walls without duties are unheated in the winter and uncooled in the summer. It’s like putting somebody in a hot box.”

Central to the problem is that whistleblowers’ retaliation complaints can often end up being handled by the very people accused of doing the retaliation. In Alabama and Georgia, as we’ve shown, it’s a common tactic to open up a counter-investigation of the worker who raises issues. That often includes nebulous charges that the whistleblower is creating a “hostile environment.”


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