VA Whistleblower Says She was Penalized for Refusing to Cook Books

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The whistleblower who prompted a federal investigation of the Fort Collins Veterans Affairs clinic says that she was punished for refusing to lie and cheat the system when scheduling appointments. According to the Fort Collins Veterans Affairs clinic, she was placed on two-week unpaid leave for refusing to “cook the books”.

When the whistleblower, a former Navy reservist that is now on active duty, and another scheduler chose to not hide wait times between desired appointments and actual dates in March 2013, they were both transferred from Fort Collins, Colo. The whistleblower told the Fort Collins Coloradoan that after she filed an internal grievance about the transfer and scheduling practices, she was suspended. The VA aims to get veterans their appointments within 14 days; a VA spokesperson said that wait times are used as a performance measure and can help contribute to administrator bonuses. The whistleblower cited a spreadsheet listing which schedulers met their 14-day goal.

According to a report from the federal Office of the Medical Inspector, appointments in Fort Collins jumped up to the high 90s percentile from mid-60 and 70 after the whistleblower and other scheduler were transferred. There was also a condemning email written by an employee detailing how they were “gaming the system” and stated that “when we exceed the 14 day measure, the front office gets very upset.” Reportedly, schedulers would indicate what appointments were available, which could be as long as eight weeks according to the report, rather than ask when patients wanted to be seen.

The whistleblower says that after her internal grievance was denied, she was placed on leave. Afterwards, she filed a whistleblower reported with the federal Office of Special Counsel. She said that her transfer relocated her to a site that required an hour drive each way for lower pay. When administrators learned that she had gone to federal oversight agencies, they offered to remove the suspension from her record and pay her for her leave if she dropped all whistleblower activity. She refused the deal, telling Fort Collins Coloradoan that she continued to fight based on principle.