Credits Germaine Clarno for Standing Her Ground for Over Two Years
CHICAGO, IL – U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) released the following statement after the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) determined an investigation by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) into whistleblower complaints of schedule manipulations and secret wait lists at Edward Hines, Jr., VA Hospital in Illinois was willfully inadequate, ignored allegations of excessive wait times for veterans, failed to hold senior leaders responsible for the improper practices, and attempted to discredit Germaine Clarno:
“Veterans at Hines have waited over two years to finally learn the truth – schedulers maintained secret wait lists in order to receive cash bonuses. The OSC letter to the President shows another example of the VA culture – attack whistleblowers instead of protecting vets. This report is a victory for whistleblowers who risk retaliation, firing and even criminal investigation when they stand up for vets.
“When Germaine came to me with information about the same type of scandal happening at Hines that we saw in Phoenix, I met with the hospital’s then-director, Joan Ricard, to demand her resignation for encouraging schedulers to manipulate wait times. Germaine and Shea are champions for standing up to the intimidation of the VA for over two years. For them, I have passed a new law to protect whistleblowers at our VA hospitals from retaliation.
“The wait time scandal in Phoenix showed 35 veterans died while waiting for an appointment. It’s long past time for the VA to conduct a real investigation into whistleblower allegations at Hines, determine how many veterans were harmed and if any died as a result of this scandal, and fire those responsible for covering it up.”
Clarno, a social worker at Hines VA and president of the AFGE Local 781, alleged that Hines VA staff were improperly ordered to falsely “zero out” patient wait times and to use a separate Excel spreadsheet to schedule appointments rather than the VA’s electronic system. She said the improper scheduling practices followed at Hines VA covered up unacceptable delays in veterans’ wait times.
“Two years ago I went public to report secret wait lists and the gaming of wait times for veterans,” Clarno said. “I expected that I would be the target of retaliation and harassment at Hines but I soon realized the Office of Inspector General, the very agency that was supposed to help whistleblowers and bring to light their claims, would instead use the same tactics and work to discredit us instead of fixing the problems hurting veterans. I won’t be stopped by retaliation at Hines or even from the OIG, I will continue to advocate for our veterans with Senator Kirk until the VA is fixed.”
In 2014, the VA OIG investigated Clarno’s claims and submitted its report on January 26, 2015. On February 25, 2016, the OSC released its review of the OIG’s investigation and report, finding it “does not meet the statutory requirements and the findings do not appear reasonable.”
In its report, the OSC found:
- The OIG investigation confirmed Clarno’s allegations of separate wait lists and schedule manipulations, but concluded without explanation that the separate lists did not violate VA policy.
- The OIG investigation also confirmed delays in patient care at Hines VA but did not attempt to determine the extent of those delays or what impact they had on patient care. The report failed to “make any recommendations for corrective action to address the ongoing delays.”
- Despite evidence “that leadership and senior management had knowledge of at least the potential for these practices,” the OIG report concluded Hines management had no knowledge of the improper practices.
- The OIG limited its investigation to the “straw man” question of whether the off-the-books wait lists were “secret,” and as a result the report “failed to address the whistleblowers’ legitimate concerns about access to care for” veterans at Hines.
- “The Special Counsel determined that the agency report does not meet the statutory requirements, nor do the agency’s findings appear reasonable. … [T]he report does not provide a sufficient review of the evidence, and the evidence does not support the findings and conclusions. … [T]he OIG investigation was not responsive to the serious allegations of significant wait times and delays in veterans’ access to care at Hines.”
- “The content and tenor of the report OIG prepared demonstrate hostility toward Ms. Clarno, apparently for having spoken publicly, as well as an attempt to minimize her allegations.”
In April of 2014, Dr. Katherine Mitchell and Dr. Sam Foote broke national news that schedulers at the Phoenix VA hospital were manipulating wait times of veterans in order to receive financial bonuses.
Senator Kirk, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the VA, looked for scheduling manipulations at VA hospitals in Illinois and found Germaine Clarno, a social worker and president of the AFGE Local 781 at the Edward Hines, Jr., VA Hospital near Maywood, Ill., Germaine was trying to tell anyone who would listen that schedulers at Hines routinely manipulated the schedules of veterans and that senior officials at Hines were guilty of the same systemic cover-up.
Senator Kirk also met Dr. Lisa Nee, a former cardiologist at Hines who experienced retaliation from VA officials after reporting a backlog of hundreds of unread echocardiogram tests and unnecessary surgeries. Senator Kirk has questioned the validity of VA OIG Report No. 13-02053-119, which acknowledges unnecessary surgeries done on veterans by Hines cardiologists but doesn’t call for corrective action or accountability for the physician in question.
Since then, Senator Kirk has partnered with these whistleblowers to bring real accountability and awareness to the misconduct and ongoing patient and whistleblower abuse that was happening at the Hines VA.
May 13, 2014: CBS News reports allegations made by Germaine Clarno, a social worker at Hines VA in Maywood, Ill., and VA employee union president, that employees at Hines used secret wait lists in order to receive bonuses.
May 14, 2014: Senator Kirk calls for the VA Inspector General to expand its ongoing investigation to include Hines VA. May 15, 2014: The VA Office of the Inspector General notifies Senator Kirk that it had opened an investigation into the allegations regarding Hines VA.
May 16, 2014: Senator Kirk speaks on the phone with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki regarding the Hines VA allegations. Secretary Shinseki agrees to Senator Kirk’s request to expand IG investigation into all VA hospitals in Illinois.
May 21, 2014: Senator Kirk sends a letter to the VA Acting Inspector General Richard J. Griffin requesting investigation into specific claims of scheduling manipulations, bonuses and delays in treatment at Hines VA.
July 24, 2014: Senator Kirk sends a letter to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Nabors, who the White House appointed to investigate VA backlogs and mistreatment of veterans, requesting that he join in on a meeting with Hines VA whistleblowers– including Hines VA’s Germaine Clarno–in his Chicago office to discuss their experiences as employees at the Hines VA.
July 25, 2014: Senator Kirk convenes with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Nabors and whistleblowers in Chicago to discuss misconduct and corruption at Hines VA, including long wait times for veterans and mold discovered in the facility. They meet with hospital whistleblowers, including Germaine Clarno.
July 25, 2014: Senator Kirk sends a letter to Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin of the Veterans Affairs citing the consistent flooding and presence of mold throughout Hines VA. In light of these findings, Senator Kirk renews his call for Hines VA Director Joan Ricard to step down.
July 31, 2014: Senator Kirk sends a letter to newly-confirmed VA Secretary Robert McDonald addressing the retaliatory actions–including restricting access to computer hardware needed to perform her job–that Germaine Clarno, a social worker at Hines VA, suffered.
October 7, 2014: Following Senator Kirk’s calls for dismissal, Hines VA Director Ricard steps down.
January 9, 2015: Senator Kirk calls on Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin to appoint new inspectors and to investigate complaints and allegations at Hines.
July 13, 2015: Senator Kirk and Representative Charlie Dent (R-Pa.-15) send a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to nominate a permanent Inspector General (IG) to oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the numerous ongoing investigations into misconduct, mistreatment of veterans, and retaliation against whistleblowers at the agency.
July 30, 2015: On National Whistleblower Day, Senator Kirk chairs a hearing of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. Along with Dr. Lisa Nee, witnesses include Dr. Katherine Mitchell, the whistleblower who broke the Phoenix VA scandal last year that led to the resignation of Secretary Shinseki; Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group that investigates corruption and misconduct within government agencies; Linda Halliday, Deputy Inspector General and acting head of the VA OIG; and Carolyn Lerner, Special Counsel at the OSC.
November 9, 2015: Senator Kirk chairs a field hearing in Chicago with Germaine Clarno and Dr. Lisa Nee to detail whistleblower allegations and patient and employee abuse at the Hines VA.
November 18, 2015: Senator Kirk introduces the Veterans Patient Protection Act, which forces the VA to address reports of abuse and punishes the managers who retaliate, ignore, and intimidate veteran whistleblowers.
December 18, 2015: Senator Kirk’s MilCon/VA bill, included in the fiscal year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, is signed into law and closes a loophole in the Whistleblower Protection Act so that the 200,000 doctors and nurses at the VA are now fully protected from retaliation under the law. This is the first time ever that doctors and nurses will be fully protected from retaliation and abuse under the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Senator Kirk’s legislation also provides record funding for veterans’ care – $71.4 billion for the VA ($1.3 billion above the President’s request).