V.A Retaliation Against Whistleblowers: Doctors Paid To Do Nothing

Whistle blowers who identify problems in the V.A continue to be retaliated against by the VA.  A Yale University graduated doctor; Dr. Dale Klein said the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) took away his patients almost a year ago after, he alleges, he blew the whistle on secret wait-lists;  and on wait-time manipulation at the V.A. in Poplar Bluff, Mo., When his superiors did nothing, Klein went to the inspector general.

Klein is A first class pain management specialist at the Veterans Administration in Southeast Missouri John J. Pershing. He is paid $250,000 a year to work with veterans, but instead of helping those who served their country, he sits in a small office and does nothing. All day. Every day. Dr. Dale Klein is the highest-paid U.S. government employee who does nothing while he’s on the clock.

“I sit in a chair and I look at the walls,” the doctor said of his typical workday. “It feels like solitary confinement.”

“Immediately after the V.A. found out I made these disclosures, I started to get retaliated against,” Klein said.

Klein was first placed on administrative leave. The Missouri-V.A. closed his pain management clinic. They tried to terminate him. According to court documents, the V.A. tried to fire Klein “not based on substandard care or lack of clinical competence” but instead for “consistent acceleration of trivial matters through his chain of command.”

“I do not consider secret wait-lists and manipulations of wait times to be trivial matters,” Klein said.

An independent federal investigative agency in Washington, D.C called the Office of Special Counsel, made it clear; that the doctor could not be fired.  For Klein the retaliation continues and he believes his superiors stripped him of his duties to silence him. 

The situation was so desperate for Klein; that Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chair Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., chose to step in, writing a letter in January to the acting V.A. secretary requesting the V.A. “cease all retaliatory actions” against Klein.

“I’m concerned about a doctor who could be utilizing his skills to help veterans, but who is not able to utilize those skills,” Johnson said. Senator Johnson’s Klein Letter To VA

As Incredible as it is to believe but Klein isn’t the only V.A. employee who has been retaliated against. In fact, his story very similar to that of Brian Smothers, who worked at the Denver V.A. from 2015 until last November when he says conditions were hostile against him; he had to quit.

Brian Smothers served in the Colorado Army National Guard and Reserves from 1999 to 2007, and later joined the Denver V.A. to help veterans with healthcare and assisted the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder clinical team.

“I come from a family of veterans who really highly values service to others and helping veterans and that’s what I wanted to dedicate my life to doing… helping veterans who may be struggling,” he said.

Smothers was working as a peer support specialist when he found more than 3,500 veterans on what he says were “secret” wait-lists at V.A. facilities in Denver, Golden and Colorado Springs.

“It looked like some kind of game they were playing with veteran’s mental healthcare, and I was very upset,” Smothers said. “It became clear to me very quickly that many of the veterans that were on the PTSD clinical team’s wait-list had been waiting for care for three, four, five, six months,” Smothers said.

The Reason?

Smothers believes it was all about profit: “People who run the V.A. and the mental health division hid these wait-lists so they could meet performance goals, and as a consequence of meeting these goals, they got bonuses. They defrauded the federal government because it benefited them.”

Smothers is haunted by the deaths of veteran’s under his care. One death in particular, an Army Ranger in Colorado Springs who told the V.A. that he had been waiting for care and was suicidal. Instead of helping him, the V.A. allegedly placed him on a wait-list and he committed suicide a short time later, Smothers said.

“I wish I could have done more to change the system from within because as far as I understand nothing is being done to change any of this,” Smothers said.

After Smothers reported the allegations to the inspector general, he said his superiors retaliated by forcing him to sit in his office, without any work assignments or authority to see patients. Human Resources also tried to get him to destroy the wait-lists, he says. They actually wanted him to sign a piece of paper saying he had “compromised the integrity of the healthcare system,” Smothers said.

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