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New protections for VA whistleblowers

President Trump has signed into law legislation that strengthens whistleblower protections at the VA. The legislation is called the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection, named after a 38-year-old Wisconsin psychologist who was fired (and then committed suicide) after having revealed that the Tomah VA facility had been overprescribing opioid medications to veterans.

The new legislation does the following:

  • Requires training for federal workers so they understand their whistleblower rights
  • Increases penalties for VA superiors who retaliate against whistleblowers
  • Prevents unauthorized access to employee medical records
  • Requires outreach to employees for mental health concerns

An attempted amendment

Democrats tried to add an amendment to the bill that would have added protections for federal employees who blow the whistle on agency heads or political appointees who abuse their position to use taxpayer money for inappropriate travel expenses (such as using private jets instead of commercial carriers). Republicans did not pursue the amendment, however, preferring to move the existing legislation along more quickly.

About Chris Kirkpatrick's case

Dr. Kirkpatrick, along with other doctors at the VA facility in Tomah, Wisconsin, had raised concerns that veterans had been overmedicated with opioids. Management pushed back against these claims, and reprimanded Kirkpatrick at a disciplinary meeting.

A veteran later died of drug toxicity, and a subsequent VA study found that veterans at the Tomah facility were more than twice as likely as the national average to be prescribed high doses of opiates.

When Dr. Kirkpatrick later wrote in his notes that a patient who was supposed to have been discharged had not been discharged, he was fired, supposedly for taking time off inappropriately and not cleaning up after a dog he had permission to bring to work.

With heavy student debt and having left family and a relationship back in Chicago to take the Tomah job, Dr. Kirkpatrick killed himself, unaware that he had recourse to challenge the Tomah VA's decision to fire him.

Protect yourself and talk to a lawyer

You don't have to accept unethical treatment that defrauds the government and cheats people out of the proper care they deserve. If you suggest that your employer - the VA or otherwise - has engaged in questionable behavior that misuses taxpayer dollars, talk to an experienced whistleblower lawyer who can guide you through the steps to filing a whistleblower case.

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