S. 585 provides additional protections to Federal employees who are retaliated against for disclosing waste, fraud, and abuse in the Federal government. Specifically, the legislation increases protections for federal employees, increases awareness of federal whistleblower protections, and increases accountability and requires discipline for supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers.
The bill provides enhanced protections and expedites investigations of instances in which probationary federal employees are fired for whistleblowing; enacts reforms to ensure that managers who retaliate against whistleblowers are held accountable; provides the Office of Special Counsel with adequate access to information from federal agencies to allow for complete investigations and better protect whistleblowers; ensures that all federal employees are informed of their rights as whistleblowers and provides training to managers on protections; and establishes measures to hold VA employees that improperly access the medical records of their fellow VA employees accountable.
Further, the bill requires the Government Accountability Office to provide two reports to discuss retaliation against employees on probationary status and assess management and staffing levels of police officers at VA medical centers.
Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick was a 38-year old clinical psychologist at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center. In early 2009 Dr. Kirkpatrick complained that a number of his patients were too drugged to treat properly. In April 2009, Kirkpatrick was called to a disciplinary meeting and given a written reprimand.
In July 2009, three months after Tomah VA officials disciplined him for criticizing medication practices, Kirkpatrick had reported that one of his veteran patients had threatened to harm him and his dog. A treatment team decided the patient should be discharged, but he never was. Kirkpatrick was summoned to another disciplinary meeting. This time, he was fired. Soon after, Dr. Kirkpatrick committed suicide.
A VA investigation -- triggered earlier this year by the revelation that a veteran died at Tomah last August from "mixed drug toxicity" -- found Kirkpatrick's concerns had been warranted. Tomah veterans were 2½ times more likely to get high doses of opiates than the national average. Further investigations found retaliation against whistleblowers has become a major problem at VA facilities across the country. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating 110 retaliation claims from whistleblowers in 38 states and the District of Columbia.