Veterans groups aren’t wasting any time waiting for federal investigators to uncover more negligence at VA hospitals across the country. They’re taking matters into their own hands.
On Thursday, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), launched a whistleblower website to provide VA employees and veterans with the ability to expose wrongdoings within the department.
Instead of relying on government auditors to expose any potential wrongdoing, the groups say providing people with a reporting tool to hold the VA accountable is more efficient. “Report Fraud, Mismanagement and Abuse,” says the site in large red letters near the top of its homepage. The groups say their ultimate goal is to “improve the system so veterans can get the proper medical treatment the government promises.”
VAOversight.org launched just before VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testified before Congress on alleged treatment delays, hidden wait lists and potentially preventable deaths at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. Since the news of the case broke in the last two weeks, other stories of negligence at VA hospitals across the country have surfaced. At one VA facility in Colorado, for instance, an employee admitted to “gaming the system” and manipulating health appointments to make it look like veterans hadn’t been waiting for long periods of time to receive treatment, CNN reported.
“Secretary Shinseki has finally started to emerge publicly and address these allegations, but short-term, reactive measures will not eradicate the more pervasive problems that are causing veterans to lose faith in the system,” IAVA Chief Policy Officer Tom Tarantino said in a statement. “VA has a long way to go to earn back the trust and confidence of the millions of veterans shaken by this controversy.”
The creators of the website say the new tool will make it easier for people to report wrongdoings as quickly as possible.
“It takes a lot of courage to step forward and put one’s career at risk,” POGO’s executive director Danielle Brain said in a statement. “Whistleblowers shouldn’t have to go it alone. We can help whistleblowers hold the VA accountable, and keep the focus on solutions rather than attempts to hunt down those who voiced concerns.”
VAOversight.org allows people to anonymously submit complaints, which are then vetted by POGO. Potential whistleblowers are encouraged to use secure browsers to submit their complaints in order to avoid retribution.
“You should never use a government or contractor phone, fax or computer to contact POGO,” the website says. “POGO may be able to further research your concerns, bring public attention to any wrongdoing, and alert senior policymakers who can bring about change.”
The group cautioned that facing reprisal is the “norm” among those who blow the whistle.
Joe Newman, communications director at POGO, told Buzzfeed that the Obama administration, which has carried out an aggressive anti-leak campaign, is especially harsh on leakers.
“What we’ve seen with the Obama administration is the lengths they will go to try to keep things in house,” Newman said. “The thing that makes the Obama administration really stand out is the use of the Espionage Act. They’ve invoked it seven times [against leakers] and that’s more than every other administration combined when it comes to going after people who have leaked to the media.”
The Obama administration, for its part, has previously said it would “strengthen and protect whistleblowers.”
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