By Jonah Bennett
In a stunning release, a federal agency confirmed a Phoenix Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) whistleblower’s claims that on an average day at the facility, 1,100 patients are waiting longer than 30 days for care.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency that protects whistleblowers, released a statement Tuesday noting that delays at the Phoenix VA facility are so significant that they may have resulted in the death of a veteran that could have been prevented. This veteran in particular suffered from cardiovascular disease, but the facility didn’t provide the veteran with proper exams in a decent time frame. He later died.
The OSC came to this conclusion after the VA investigated the claims of whistleblower Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez, chief of specialty care clinics at the Phoenix VA. The VA also determined that wait times were incredibly long for psychotherapy appointments.
Veterans have to wait an average of 75 days for one of these slots.
Other veterans died while waiting for care, too. Out of a sample of 215 veterans who died while waiting for care, the VA determined that 21 percent of consults were delayed. The VA inspector general insisted that these delays, however, did not contribute to their deaths.
“In case after case since 2014, Phoenix VA whistleblowers have exposed and helped to correct serious problems with veterans’ care,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner in a statement. “I thank Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez for his courage, and urge the VA to act quickly in implementing all recommendations to improve timely access to care for veterans in Phoenix.”
Disclosures of horrific practices at VA facilities have comprised the biggest portion of OSC’s work for the last three years, according to the agency.
The OSC letter Tuesday was important enough to merit a split-second reaction from GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, a long-time advocate of whistleblower rights.
“Sometimes whistleblowers expose matters of life and death, other times they expose harm against the taxpayers, and sometimes they expose all of the above,” Grassley said in a statement. “Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez of the Phoenix VA deserves praise and gratitude for coming forward about problems that cover all of the above.”
And yet, despite his disclosures, Rodriguez told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the VA is trying to punish him.
“They are alleging hostile work environment and discrimination on hiring…I’ve only been on one hiring board this whole year,” Rodriguez said. “And I was not the selecting official.”
“The facility will go after me not because they have evidence but because I’m the reason their scandals keep getting worse,” he added.
As part of an investigation, he is being summoned to an Administrative Investigative Board hearing to answer allegations that his department created a hostile work environment and engaged in discriminatory practices. That hearing, initially set for Dec. 9, has been rescheduled for Jan. 12.
A previous whistleblower at the facility, Brandon Coleman, told TheDCNF that the purpose of the hearing is probably to “grill Krod and more than likely attempt to terminate him on some bogus charge…He is the next me and is the last of the Phoenix VA Whistleblowers. This is why management wants him gone so very badly.”
OSC has sent its findings to the White House and Congress.