WASHINGTON, March 12, 2016 — After three requests in seven months, the Veterans’ Administration head failed to deliver a full Inspector General report to the chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the VA.
The report from the VA Inspector General stems from an investigation into claims of long wait times by VA employee and whistleblower Germaine Clarno at the Hines VA Medical Center. Robert McDonald, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, was challenged again by Sen. Mark Kirk, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, to produce the report during a committee hearing on March 10.
The VAOIG report is at the center of a growing firestorm. The Office of Special Counsel blasted the report and the VAOIG’s office for engaging in cover-up and whistleblower retaliation rather than investigation.
On May 13, 2014, CBS news ran a story about a secret wait list at the Hines VAMC, in Hines, Illinois, about 10 miles west of Chicago. Clarno was CBS’s main source.
Clarno has testified at numerous congressional hearings and spoken in front of many groups, including the Whistleblower Summit in July 2015.
On Feb. 25, OSC head Caroyln Lerner sent a letter to the president about the VAOIG’s investigation. OSC was in effect investigating the investigators.
OSC investigated the VAOIG’s investigation at Hines and another hospital, the VAMC in Shreveport, Louisiana, where Christopher “Shea” Wilkes stepped forward with similar allegations of secret wait lists.
According to Lerner, “The focus and tone of the OIG investigations appear to be intended to discredit the whistleblowers rather than reviewing the access to care issues identified by the whistleblowers and in the OSC referrals.”
Now Kirk’s office has added a new wrinkle, pointing out that the VAOIG’s office has never produced the full report but rather three summaries, each of which has been rejected.
More than a year ago, on Jan. 26, 2015, the VAOIG submitted its full investigation report to the VA’s Office of Accountability Review (OAR) and on July 28, 2015, OAR determined the OIG investigation was sufficient and no further investigation was needed. OAR submitted a summary to OSC.
Yet, all the VAOIG has produced thus far are three summaries, each of which has been rejected.
Kirk and Johnson are part of the newly formed Whistleblower Protection Caucus, a bipartisan group of 10 U.S. senators started on Feb. 25, 2015.
When Kirk asked Johnson in the March 10 hearing why the full VAOIG report was still not presented to the committee, McDonald replied, “We want the IG’s report released.”
But McDonald then pivoted, suggesting the release of the report was tied to the Senate’s failure to confirm a new VAOIG head. “We would like the Senate to confirm a new IG, Mike Missal.”
The Obama administration first put Missal up for appointment in October 2015, months after Kirk’s office had already asked for the full report.
Kirk wasn’t buying, saying in a press release after the hearing that, “nearly two years after Clarno exposed secret wait lists at Hines, the VA is still hiding the details instead of improving veterans’ care.”
“This is the third time I have put Germaine in front of the VA secretary. Since the February report vindicated Germaine and said inspectors demonstrated ‘hostility’ toward her, there is no excuse for ignoring her any longer.”
Clarno was in attendance for the hearing but did not respond to a phone call for comment.
McDonald is scheduled to make a visit to Hines later this month.