If you really need further evidence of why it’s dangerous to let government officials demand sensitive information from us, look no further than the ongoing scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Once focused on the apparently lethal mistreatment of military veterans by a system created to provide them with (usually crappy) medical care, the story now also encompasses retaliation by officials against VA employees who raise concerns about such mistreatment.
Perhaps most disturbing: “In several cases, the medical records of whistleblowers have been accessed and information in those records has apparently been used to attempt to discredit the whistleblowers,” commented Carolyn Lerner from the Office of Special Counsel at a congressional hearing yesterday.
The hearing held by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, was part of an ongoing saga that includes testimony from multiple participants, though Lerner’s presence was an understandable repeat performance, given the Office of Special Counsel’s role in protecting whistleblowers. Last September, Lerner told another congressional committee that her office “received over 80 new VA whistleblower retaliation cases related to patient health and safety just since June 1, 2014.”
Among the VA cases Lerner’s office had addressed at that point, it “for the first time obtained a stay on behalf of an employee who faced retaliation for refusing to obey an order that would have violated the law.” That employee had been ordered to enter classified information into an unsecured computer network, which you would think government agencies would be getting just a bit more sensitive about. Well…OK. That’s a vain hope.