[nfbmi-talk] 1 v a whishtlevlower blind
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Tue Sep 30 12:08:27 UTC 2014
Phoenix VA whistle-blowers get retaliation settlements
Dr. Katherine Mitchell, Paula Pedene and Damian Reese — accepted settlements for demotions and harassment they suffered at the hands of VA administrators
after exposing faults of the VA.
Dennis Wagner, The Republic | azcentral.com 10:07 p.m. MST September 29, 2014
Paula Pedene, a Phoenix VA spokeswoman, was banished to the basement after disclosing misconduct.(Photo: Republic file photo)
List of 3 items
• Dr. Katherine Mitchell, Paula Pedene and Damian Reese accepted settlements for their demotions.
• VA Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner praised all three whistle-blowers for following their consciences.
• Office of Special Counsel is investigating 125 other VA whistle-blower retaliation complaints.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has reached settlement terms with three Phoenix whistle-blowers who filed retaliation complaints after helping to
expose mismanagement and health-care breakdowns at the Phoenix VA medical center.
The trio — Dr. Katherine Mitchell, Paula Pedene and Damian Reese — accepted mostly confidential settlements for demotions and harassment they suffered at
the hands of VA administrators after exposing delays in patient care, fraudulent wait-time data, bullying and other misconduct.
In a news release, VA Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner praised all three whistle-blowers, saying they "followed their consciences and reported wrongdoing,
and their efforts have improved care and accountability."
"I applaud the VA's leadership for taking actions quickly to reverse these (retaliation) cases and concrete steps to change the VA's culture," Lerner added.
"The settlements allow these courageous employees to return to successful careers."
Pedene, a Phoenix VA spokeswoman who was banished to work in a basement library 22 months ago after disclosing misconduct, cried Monday morning as she discussed
her experience and its resolution.
"I feel vindicated and happy and sad. There are so many mixed emotions," she said. "I'm moving forward and looking forward."
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Pedene served as the Phoenix VA Health Care System public-affairs officer for two decades and was a longtime director of the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade
until she blew the whistle on a hostile work environment and financial mismanagement. Pedene, who is legally blind, said the harassment against her included
a challenge of her disability as well as allegations that resulted in criminal and administrative investigations.
She also worked behind the scenes with Dr. Sam Foote, the Phoenix VA whistle-blower whose allegations of delayed care ultimately turned into a national
Under terms of the settlement, Pedene will become a national program specialist for the communications office of the Veterans Health Administration.
"My hope is that settlements like these will help change the VA culture," Pedene said. "What remains to be seen is how far it will go. I think the way to
answer that is to have accountability and disciplinary action against those who reprised against me."
Mitchell, a 16-year employee at the VA, was transferred to a program for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans after she filed complaints with hospital administrators
four years ago about patient-threatening problems in the Emergency Department.
She later was subjected to an investigation and reprimand after raising concerns about veterans' suicides. Along with Foote and Pedene, Mitchell provided
detailed information to Congress, the VA inspector general and The Arizona Republic about delayed care, falsified appointment data, mismanagement and other
Mitchell, who will now work at the VA's Southwest regional office overseeing the quality of patient care, said she relied on friends and ice-cream cones
to get her through her ordeal.
Dr. Katherine Mitchell
Dr. Katherine Mitchell testifies about VA misconduct before Congress.(Photo: File photo)
"I'm encouraged that the national VA is willing to take a step forward and start to heal from within," she said. "It's a question now whether this is a
one-dip-cone or a two-dip-cone day."
Mitchell, who recently testified before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said the Office of Special Counsel assured her that, although the retaliation
complaint has been settled, the VA will investigate those responsible and take appropriate disciplinary action.
"That's incredibly important," Mitchell said, adding that the VA's systemic problem with bullying will remain unchanged unless administrators are held accountable.
Reese, a Phoenix VA program analyst, raised internal complaints last year about falsified data on patient wait times for doctors' appointments. He asserted
in a memo that the fraudulent practice was "unethical and a disservice to our veterans." It is unclear what retaliation he suffered. The Office of Special
Counsel news release does not spell out any terms of Reese's settlement, and he could not be reached for comment.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said the settlements are "at least a tacit admission from the department that
its actions were wrong." However, he added, "until VA officials at all levels take aggressive action to fire all managers who have sought to punish employees
for exposing fraud, waste and abuse within the system, I have no confidence (the) VA's shameful treatment of whistle-blowers will end anytime soon."
Besides the three Phoenix cases, the Office of Special Counsel is investigating 125 other complaints of retaliation against VA whistle-blowers and is reviewing
89 disclosures from employees who allege threats to patient health or safety. Fifty-one of those have been referred to the Office of Inspector General.
The Phoenix VA whistle-blowers sparked a nationwide furor over patient care in the dysfunctional federal agency. Investigators concluded that VA administrators
knowingly falsified patient-access data, in part to earn bonus pay, and that veterans suffered as a result of protracted delays in care. While inspectors
could not conclusively assert that Phoenix patients died because of untimely treatment, the Office of Inspector General acknowledged that delays contributed
The controversy led to the ouster of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, passage of a $16billion VA reform bill, inspector-general probes at more than 80 VA medical
centers and the suspension of top administrators, including three in Phoenix.
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