VA resolves Phoenix whistleblower retaliation complaints

Phoenix-Va-1The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) obtained relief for three Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) whistleblowers working at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Phoenix, Arizona. The employees filed retaliation complaints with OSC after reporting wrongdoing.

The three whistleblowers: Dr. Katherine Mitchell, Paula Pedene, and Damian Reese agreed to settle their cases with the VA. According to the OSC, the VA provided “full and fair relief to each of the employees.”

The details of the settlements are confidential.

“Dr. Mitchell, Ms. Pedene, and Mr. Reese followed their consciences and reported wrongdoing, and their efforts have improved care and accountability at the VA,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner. “The settlements allow these courageous employees to return to successful careers at the VA.”

OSC report:

Katherine Mitchell

Dr. Mitchell blew the whistle on critical understaffing and inadequate triage training in the Phoenix VAMC’s emergency room. According to Dr. Mitchell’s complaint, Phoenix VAMC leadership engaged in a series of targeted retaliatory acts that included ending her assignment as ER Director. Dr. Mitchell has 16 years of experience at the Phoenix VAMC, and also testified twice before Congress in recent months.

Among other provisions, Dr. Mitchell’s settlement includes assignment to a new position that allows her to oversee the quality of patient care.

Paula Pedene

Ms. Pedene was the chief spokesperson at the Phoenix VAMC, with over two decades of experience. She made numerous disclosures beginning in 2010, including concerns about financial mismanagement by former leadership at the medical center. Many of the allegations were substantiated by a November 2011 VA Office of Inspector General review. Subsequently, according to Ms. Pedene’s reprisal complaint, Phoenix VAMC management improperly investigated Pedene on unsubstantiated charges, took away her job duties, and moved her office to the basement library.

Among other provisions, Ms. Pedene’s settlement includes assignment to a national program specialist position in the Veterans Health Administration, Office of Communications.

Damian Reese

Mr. Reese is a Phoenix VAMC program analyst. He voiced concerns to Phoenix VAMC management about the amount of time veterans had to wait for primary-care provider appointments and management’s efforts to characterize long wait times as a “success” by manipulating the patient records. After making this disclosure, Mr. Reese had his annual performance rating downgraded by a senior official with knowledge of his email.

Mr. Reese agreed to settle his claims with the VA for mutually agreed upon relief.

OSC continues to investigate over 125 complaints of retaliation at the VA for blowing the whistle on improper patient scheduling, understaffing of medical facilities, and other dangers to patient health and safety at VA facilities around the country.

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