June 17, 2014
In March of 2013, former Navy reservist Lisa Lee was unceremoniously transferred from Fort Collins, Colorado and then suspended without pay for two weeks. Transfers and suspensions are not unheard of in the armed forces, both active and reserve, but in this case, the reason for the transfer and the suspension was alarming.
Lee, now on active duty in Hawaii, has come forward to the press after refusing to change dates in official records at a Veterans Administration medical clinic. Her commanding officers had, she says, insisted that she change the actual dates of appointments at the clinic to hide wait times and make it appear as if veterans had been assisted in a timely manner.
At first, Lee was only transferred, but she says she was put on unpaid leave after she filed an internal grievance about the scheduling practices and the transfer. She had been hoping to blow the whistle on dishonest practices, but instead she was punished.
The problem with “cooking the books,” as Lee’s superiors had instructed her to do, is that the VA claims to see veterans and address issues within 14 days of desired dates for appointments. The proximity of actual appointments to desired appointment dates is used as a measure for performance. Changing those dates essentially makes the VA look as though it was doing a better job than in reality.
Lee Was Transferred and Suspended for Speaking Up
According to the federal Office of the Medical Inspector, after Lee was transferred, the number of appointments that fell within the 14-day waiting period jumped from between 60% and 70% to over 90%.
Further proof came in the form of an email from an employee at the VA who wrote that the “front office” would get “very upset” whenever the 14-day measure was exceeded in the books. Note that nothing was being done to reduce this waiting period in real life, only in the documentation. Actual wait times, according to inside sources and patients, were climbing to over 8 weeks.
Before Lee filed her whistleblower report with the Office of Special Counsel, she says that she went through the internal grievance process. Upon completing this process, she was denied and placed on suspension. In addition to this, her transfer also came with a location based pay cut.
Her quality of life decreased, as well. According to Lee, at Fort Collins, she had been able to ride her bicycle to work every day. At the Cheyenne, Wyoming VA Medical Center, she had to drive nearly an hour in each direction to get to and from work, all while making less money than she had at Fort Collins.
Lee maintains that she was made an example for other schedulers to play by the rules or suffer the consequences. She was even more convinced when she was offered a deal that would eradicate her suspension from her record and reimburse her the lost wages from those two weeks if she just stopped blowing the whistle. Feeling this just pointed to a larger ethical problem, she did not accept the deal.
Lee’s continued efforts have gained the attention of the Office of the Medical Inspector and other investigative departments. While the staff members at the Fort Collins and Cheyenne VA medical centers have declined to comment on the situation and policies in play, it looks like Lee’s steadfast commitment to honesty and integrity could pay off for veterans seeking assistance in a timely manner.
Seeking Legal Assistance Can Help Whistleblowers
Concerned employees, service members, and citizens who witness wrongdoing should never have to fear legal or financial repercussions from standing up, telling the truth, and blowing the whistle. If you feel that you are being punished for reporting unlawful acts, as Lisa Lee was, contact an experienced attorney at Seeger Weiss LLP for a consultation today.