Veterans’ Affairs Director Caught Threatening Whistleblowers

Melissa Blasius, KUSA 6:30 p.m. MST February 11, 2015

KUSA – A Colorado congressman is calling for a broader investigation into wrongdoing at the Denver Veterans Affairs Hospital after the hospital director made “veiled threats” to potential whistleblowers.

“Once you talk to the media, you are on your own. The VA does not support you.” Director Lynette Roff said in an employee meeting on Jan. 30. “Once you are in hot water, nobody will help you.”

9Wants to Know obtained a recording of the meeting, in which Roff also discussed a secret patient waiting list exposed in an earlier 9Wants to Know report.

“Director Roff’s threats are exactly what is wrong with the leadership at the VA,” said Rep. Mike Coffman, (R-Aurora), a Marine Corps combat veteran. “We owe a great deal of gratitude to the whistleblowers across the VA. Without them, many of the worst cases of corruption and mismanagement would never have been uncovered had they not had the courage to step forward.”

Coffman says he is now asking for an expanded independent federal investigation of the VA’s Eastern Colorado Health Care System. He wants that probe to include a look at any efforts to stifle whistleblowers. Nationally, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a Whistleblower Protection Program.

The VA Rocky Mountain Network, the regional VA office that oversees the Denver area, told 9Wants to Know it “fully supports” an employee’s right to raise any issue forward.

“While we encourage employees to raise concerns within the organization to allow us the opportunity to address issues,” a regional office spokeswoman said in an email, “we acknowledge and support their right to engage the media or their elected officials. We are in 100% support of the VA’s Whistleblower protection policy.”

Roff has repeatedly denied interview requests from 9WTK, which had aired several reports about delays in care. A VA hospital spokesman initially denied the existence of secret patient waiting lists. Later, Roff confirmed that an unauthorized patient list did exist in the hospital’s sleep lab in 2011 and 2012, but she says calling is “secret” is a mischaracterization. She recently announced she will retire March 1.

“Change at the VA has been far too slow in coming from the top down, but thanks to whistleblowers it can come from the bottom up,” Coffman said.

He is a co-sponsor for a bill that would expand existing whistleblower protections. The Veterans Affairs Retaliation Prevention Act of 2015 would establish mandatory discipline for VA employees who retaliate against whistleblowers.

Coffman also promised to personally protect and watch out for any veteran willing to come forward, in the media or otherwise, with evidence of wrongdoing in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(KUSA-TV © 2015 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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