Phoenix VA Whistleblower Punished

Monday, 04 Aug 2014 01:03 PM

By John Blosser

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A whistleblower at the Phoenix Veterans Affair Hospital has been punished by being placed in a lower-ranking job, The Washington Post reported.

For more than two months, Paula Pedene has languished in the basement of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Hospital, booted from her former position and kicked downstairs into a lonely, isolated, do-nothing job, because, she told the newspaper, she blew the whistle on her former boss.

Pedene, 56, after a 20-year career as chief spokeswoman for the Phoenix VA, was punished for her 2010 role in revealing a mismanagement scandal in the Phoenix office that resulted in an $11.4 million shortfall in the hospital budget.

Retribution was swift, she told the Post. In late 2012, she was accused of allowing her husband to download photos of a Veterans Day parade into her VA computer, and exiled to the hospital library, losing her BlackBerry, her spokeswoman position and her government email address. In April, the library, and Pedene, were moved to the windowless basement, where she toils as an assistant receptionist.

Her former ally, one-time VA Dr. Sam Foote, told the Post, "They took her out from there like she'd sold nuclear secrets to the Iranians."

The decision to move Pedene to the library was imposed by Sharon Helman, the former director, who was placed on leave this year, on her full $170,000 salary, after the VA confirmed the facility manipulated patient wait-time records to trigger executive bonuses, according to the Arizona Republic.

"There's a long, rich tradition of exiling whistleblowers to dusty, dark closets or hallways or public spaces," Tom Devine of Government Accountability, told the Post. "The old bureaucratic equivalent of putting a whistleblower in the stocks."

On the surface, the action would appear to be illegal, since passage of the Prohibited Personnel Practices act in 1994, but according to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, it still occurs.

"It's a constant battle to make sure that whistleblower protections aren’t watered down and that whistleblowers aren’t retaliated against. Whether raising the red flag on government waste and wrongdoing, health care or defense contractor fraud, or corporate corruption, whistleblowers put a lot on the line to protect the public and taxpayers. And, unfortunately, all too often, the federal bureaucracy seems to line up against them," Grassley said in 2011 on his website.

Grassley said that eight FBI whistleblowers have contacted his office regarding retaliation for blowing the whistle on inappropriate bureau activity. The FBI, Grassley said, uses loss of effectiveness personnel actions, which skirt due process, to take revenge against those who complain about the bureau.

A physician at the St. Louis VA Hospital, Dr. Jose Matthews, told Fox News he was removed from his job seeing patients and transferred to a basement office to work on pensions and compensation paperwork.

Pedene told the Post that she hopes one day to get her old job back.

"I felt we actually had done the right thing. My goal is to be an awesome PR person for the VA again," she told the Post.

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