For years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has faced criticism over its ability to serve veterans effectively. Reports from the VA’s Inspector General dating back to 2006 note problems with malpractice, mismanagement, and corruption. Despite a budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars, some VA facilities continued to provide lackluster care and support for veterans.
President Trump signed into law The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 as a way to address some of these issues. Since then, this Act has been used as a “fast track” to disciplinary actions against VA employees, many of them low to mid-level employees.
The Act has faced much criticism since its enactment and it has caused many problems, however, one silver lining is the protection it provides to whistleblowers. The Act provides important rights to VA employees who blow the whistle on mismanagement within the VA.
What Is the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act?
The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act is a federal law designed to better regulate the VA. The Act established the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) within the VA to improve its service to veterans.
The OAWP’s purpose is to hold VA officials and employees accountable for their actions in running the VA. The OAWP also provides oversight to ensure the proper treatment of whistleblowers who expose poor management or misconduct within the VA.
One important change the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act made was the shortened deadline for appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which was reduced from 30 calendar days to 10 business days.
What Is a Protected Whistleblower Disclosure?
The Act protects both current and prospective employees of the VA when they disclose certain information. There are two main classes of information that qualify for whistleblower protection under the Act:
- Disclosures of evidence of a violation of law, rule, or regulation; and
- Disclosures of evidence of gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.
The Act protects whistleblowers by requiring the VA to develop criteria used to evaluate the performance of supervisory employees. The Act requires these criteria to promote the protection of whistleblowers, by improving how reported concerns are addressed and how whistleblowers are treated. In other words, VA employees in supervisory roles must maintain an environment that encourages employees to report misconduct without fear of retaliation or discipline for doing so.
The whistleblower protections offered under the Act prohibit prosecution or reprisal against VA whistleblowers if their disclosures are lawful. All disclosures reported to Congress, the VA Inspector General, or another investigatory agency (like the OAWP or EEOC) are lawful.
How Do I File for Whistleblower Protection?
Whistleblower protection under the VA Accountability and Protection Act applies automatically to employees of the VA who have filed a complaint of whistleblower retaliation to either the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) or OAWP.
The OAWP offers an online intake form for fast, anonymous reporting. After affirming your employment status with the VA and the nature of your complaint, you can describe the retaliation or misconduct and submit the complaint.
A complaint with the OAWP is not appropriate for allegations involving laws administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), such as claims of discrimination or disparate treatment. A complaint should be filed with the EEOC for allegations of discrimination, harassment, or a hostile work environment and you should get in contact with an EEOC lawyer right away,
VA whistleblowers can also file complaints with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) if they witness prohibited personnel practices by another federal employee. Federal law prohibits 14 specific kinds of conduct, known as prohibited personnel practices (PPPs), by federal employers. The PPPs range from discrimination and harassment to hiring others based on their relationship to the hirer (i.e. nepotism).
A VA whistleblower attorney can help you decide where you should file your complaint based on your situation. Depending on the nature and severity of the misconduct you experience, you may be able to obtain better remedies filing in one office versus another.
How Long Do You Have to File a Whistleblower Complaint?
In many cases, a whistleblower should file their complaint as soon as possible. This is due to the enactment of protections which can be extremely helpful if initiated early.
An effective whistleblower complaint is thorough but direct and contains sufficient, clear evidence to support your claims. Submitting a complaint too soon may result in less evidence at the beginning, but you can continue to provide additional information as the claim develops.
A VA whistleblower attorney can help you determine when you should file your complaint and what you should expect during the process. A whistleblower attorney can also provide you with practical advice regarding protecting your identity and what you should do if you face retaliation for coming forward.
Contact a Department of Veterans Affairs Whistleblower Attorney
Whistleblowers play an important role in holding government agencies accountable. At The Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC, we focus on a variety of issues that affect federal employees, including whistleblower complaints.
If you’ve witnessed misconduct at the VA or the federal agency where you work, we can help you blow the whistle. Contact us today or give us a call at (833) 833-3529 to schedule a free consultation about your case.