The Department of Veterans Affairs has settled with three employees following an investigation into retaliation against whistleblowers at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.
Dr. Katherine Mitchell, a former co-director of emergency care at the Phoenix hospital; Paula Pedene, the hospital’s former chief spokeswoman; and Damian Reese, a program analyst, all reported alleged wrongdoing at the hospital, and found themselves suffering consequences for bringing up their concerns.
Now, all three VA employees have settled their complaints with the agency and two have accepted new positions.
“I think it’s vindication for me and other whistleblowers,” Pedene said. “The system does work but it’s an arduous process. It does give people hope that if you can hang in there you can have your day.”
Pedene first reported financial mismanagement in 2010, which was substantiated in a report by the agency’s inspector general the following year. She, however, was demoted to receptionist and took a desk in the hospital’s basement.
As a result of the settlement, Pedene has been promoted to national program specialist in the Veteran Health Administration’s communications office.
Dr. Mitchell reported understaffing at the hospital’s emergency room, and later accused supervisors of trying to sabotage the careers of physicians by using “sham peer reviews” to damage doctors’ credibility.
“Physicians truly face losing their livelihood,” she testified before a House panel in July.
She will now take a position overseeing the quality of patient care.
Reese was one of the first employees to voice his concern about veterans experiencing long wait times, sometimes fatal, for primary care appointments. He received poor performance reviews after he complained that patients’ wait times were being recorded as much shorter than they actually were.
Reese will continue as program analyst at the Phoenix hospital.
Other VA medical facilities were found to have similar problems across the country in a scandal that culminated in former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation in May.
“We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of veterans first and honor VA’s core values of ‘integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement.
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