The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (Case No. CV 13-6030-ODW), details how U.S. Marine Corps veteran Oliver Mitchell was removed from his job at the Veterans Affairs' (VA) Greater West Los Angeles Medical Center after his efforts to timely schedule patient exams and to expose the destruction of medical records.
Veteran Whistleblower-Oliver Mitchell by T Ward Jordan
"I was asked to destroy medical requests for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and computed tomography (CT) scans," said Oliver Mitchell, who once worked as a Patient Services Assistant in the VA's Imaging Service, Radiology Section.
According to Mitchell, in November 2008 VA officials schemed to hide the medical request-records backlog of veterans waiting for care. "There was no carefully thought-out review of past requests for consultations or X-rays in the imaging department to see if the requests were still valid before the purge," added Mitchell.
Mitchell stated he reported his concerns about the VA officials destroying patient records to the Office of Special Counsel first in 2009 and then again in 2013. He told OSC of how VA officials conspired to "book newer patients first." Mitchell recounted one of his co-workers explicitly stating: "It isn't good health care; but it plays the system, because after 30 days they drop off the radar anyway."
"I provided the OSC with audio-taped discussions of how and why VA officials sought to purge patient records. Yet, the OSC refused to investigate the matter," explained Mitchell.
Mitchell stated he has suffered unbelievable reprisal after refusing to destroy patient records and after filing an employment discrimination complaint and exposing abuses within VA. "While employed by the agency, my work station was moved to a storage closet. I was placed on endless reassignments. I was subjected to forced mental-health evaluations, wrongfully placed on absence without leave (AWOL), threatened by gun violence, and threatened with force by the VA Police to include use of police dogs against me all while being 'nonviolent,'" said Mitchell.
An accounting of what transpired after Mitchell blew the whistle on VA has been captured on his blog entitled: A Whistleblower's Story.
Mitchell said he created the blog to get the word out about abuses within the VA's medical center after the OSC failed in its duty to investigate. "As the complainant, I raised my concern to the OSC with some reasonable expectation that the investigative agency would find it important enough to act," said Mitchell. "All issues affecting our veterans are important because what affects our veterans affects America."
"To best safeguard our nation, the Office of Special Counsel should step up and do a better job to protect conscientious employees who are brave enough to report misdeeds that take place in federal agencies like the VA," said Ralph Saunders, who won an employment-discrimination complaint of retaliation against the VA's New Orleans Medical Center where blacklisting of employees who spoke out against civil-rights violations was substantiated (VA Case Number 200L-0629-2004-100828).
Saunders is a member of the Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C), a 501 c (3) volunteer organization based in Washington, D.C. C4C serves as a support network and civil-rights-advocacy group composed of present and former federal employees who have been injured or ill-treated due to workplace race discrimination and/or reprisal.
"Unfortunately, civil servants who engage in EEO [equal employment opportunity] and whistleblowing activity typically face reprisal by managers who are rarely, if ever, held accountable," said Janel Smith, C4C Vice President.
"If VA officials acted lawfully and if they provided employees with instructions for properly purging patient records, C4C would very much like to see them," stated Paulette Taylor, a disabled veteran and C4C's Civil Rights Chair.
On February 11, 2014, C4C made a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for a copy of any document that authorized the Department to administratively close out veterans' patient MRI/CT scan requests. To date, the VA has failed to produce such r ecords.