Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Local VA Whistleblower Questions Acting Secretary during St. Louis Visit

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Local VA Whistleblower Questions Acting Secretary during St. Louis Visit

Article excerpt

As the acting secretary of Veterans Affairs vowed to crack down on whistleblower retaliation in the department, the former chief of psychiatry at the local VA health care system said he was recently demoted for the second time after filing a complaint last fall.

Dr. Jose Mathews on Tuesday asked secretary Sloan Gibson what protections he and other whistleblowers can expect after a national crisis of treatment delays has uncovered numerous problems in the VA health care system. Gibson, who was in St. Louis for the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, addressed VA employees in a town hall meeting at the John Cochran hospital on North Grand Boulevard.

Gibson said he learned as a bank executive that whistleblowers deserve respect as fellow employees with potential ideas for innovation and improvement. He is waiting on federal investigations into whistleblower retaliation in the VA system and said disciplinary actions are forthcoming.

"The last thing we want is to create an environment where employees are afraid to raise their hand," Gibson said.

Mathews testified before a congressional committee earlier this month and is set to meet Thursday with a task force of federal investigators to address his complaints that staff in the St. Louis VA psychiatry unit were shortchanging veterans by working half- days. The government is investigating 67 such claims of retaliation by supervisors at the VA against employee whistleblowers.

Gibson "listened to what I had to say and responded in a thoughtful and genuine manner," Mathews said. "I have to see some action before I believe that things are going to change. I have him on record that he's going to pay attention to this."

During a speech at the convention, Gibson pledged that the agency would do more to listen to workers who report problems. His comments came after the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight released a report critical of the VA's treatment of such employees. The report is based on comments and complaints filed by nearly 800 current and former VA employees and veterans nationwide.

"We have a bureaucracy that front-line staff have simply giving up trying to fight," said Gibson, a former West Point cadet and Army infantry officer. …

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