The Department of Veterans Affairs last month tried to force one of its employees to sign a non-disclosure agreement and threatened disciplinary action, after the employee appeared on television to criticize the VA for failing in its mission to deliver health care to veterans.
Scott Davis is a program specialist at the VA's Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta, and more recently is a whistleblower who has testified in Congress about the VA's numerous failures. Davis has also been on several TV and radio shows to discuss the VA's failures over the last few months.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald has promised to reform the VA, but the department is still retaliating against people who blow the whistle on shoddy performance. (AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, James Borchuck)
After appearing on Fox News on September 2, Davis was emailed just minutes later by William Lamm, who asked Davis to appear at an Administrative Investigation Board meeting scheduled for September 4. Lamm said Davis would be asked to sign a copy of a "notice" at that meeting.
Davis told TheBlaze that he isn't sure what the Board meeting would cover, but based on the notice, it appeared to be an attempt to start an internal VA investigation into Davis's actions. The notice Davis was asked to sign said employees must testify "freely and honestly in cases respecting employment and disciplinary matters," and also said issues discussed as part of the investigation cannot be talked about outside the VA.
"VA Directive 0700 requires you to refrain from disclosing any information developed in the course of the investigation, including the substance of your testimony, with others, if so directed by the Convening Authority or by a member of the administrative investigative board," it reads. "This is to protect the integrity and fairness of the investigative process."
Davis replied in an email on September 3 that the White House Office of Special Counsel is already investigating his whistleblower case, and said the VA has already determined that the OSC investigation must be concluded before the VA itself takes any action against Davis.
"Therefore, I will have to decline your invitation to meet tomorrow," Davis wrote. "Mr. Lamm, I respectfully ask that you please stop contacting me about this matter."
Later that day, Lamm wrote back that Davis had no choice but to attend the meeting, and reminded him that the notice Davis was required to sign says refusing to testify on disciplinary matters "may be ground for disciplinary action."
"Mr. Davis, with all due respect, the notification that was sent to you and to your representative to appear before the Administrative Investigation Board was not an invitation to which you can decline," Lamm wrote.
Lamm backed off his demand later in the day, in an email that said the VA wants to cooperate with the OSC, and that the OSC would not be able to have an "Agent" attend the planned hearing. Davis told TheBlaze that this veiled threat seemed empty, as the OSC told him personally that it does not employ any such "Agents."
Still, the exchange prompted Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) to write VA Secretary Robert McDonald about the VA's effort to silence Davis.
"Mr. Davis recently indicated to my staff that he is receiving threatening emails regarding disciplinary action against him," Coffman wrote. "He indicated he is being harassed and investigated and that human resource officials have demanded that he sign a document, without a VA or OMB identification control number, purporting to be a Notice of Witness Obligations, Protections and Privacy."
"Please be assured that retaliation against VA employees that have provided whistleblower information to Congress will not be tolerated," Coffman added. "I request a response and explanation within five working days."
The VA wrote back on Sept. 16, and said the VA started an investigation, and then informed Davis that he could opt out of the process. But Davis showed TheBlaze an email he got from the VA's Office of Inspector General in July that said Davis should work with the Office of Special Counsel instead of the VA.
In the meantime, Davis is continuing to blow the whistle on the failure of the VA to clean up the mess after the health care scandal broke earlier this year. He's also tweeting updates at his Twitter profile, @ScottDavis_WB.
Most recently, Davis has warned that the VA appears to be preparing to jettison thousands of old veterans' claims for healthcare that were never processed. Davis said the VA has been sending letters to people who filed these unanswered claims, and appears to be preparing to argue that it can freely drop any outstanding claim unless veterans write back.
The trouble is, Davis said, is that the VA is getting a response rate of about 8 percent, and said the VA appears to be looking for an easy way to justify ditching these old claims.
Davis added that eliminating potentially hundreds of thousands of old claims would let the VA boast about improving its performance rate for veterans seeking medical help, when really it would only be trashing claims it never answered. "By deleting the record, you're deleting your true turnaround time," he told TheBlaze.