Twenty-six employees in the network that includes the Topeka VA are listed on an “adverse actions report” now being published by Veterans Affairs.
Veterans Integrated Service Network 15 encompasses several medical centers and clinics in the Midwest, including sites in Topeka, Lawrence, Leavenworth, Wichita and Kansas City.
The reports disclose the employee’s title, actions taken since Jan. 20 and the effective date. There are nearly 800 entries in the most recently published edition from July 21. Names of individuals are withheld for privacy reasons.
Positions listed on the report in VISN 15 range from food service workers to police officers and physicians. Seventeen of the 26 employees were removed from their job. The remainder were suspended for more than 14 days. Actions against three of the employees occurred in July.
The federal agency began publishing the list earlier this month and said they plan to update it weekly. According to the VA, it is the first agency to post such information.
VA Secretary David Shulkin said releasing the reports was a step towards accountability. The agency has been plagued by controversy in recent years after an investigation revealed patients in Phoenix were dying while waiting for care. Locally, the Topeka VA’s emergency room was closed for more than a year in due to staff shortages, a former Leavenworth physician assistant was accused of sexually abusing patients and questions have been raised about an enrollment backlog.
“Under this administration, VA is committed to becoming the most transparent organization in government,” Shulkin said in a statement. “Veterans and taxpayers have a right to know what we’re doing to hold our employees accountable and make our personnel actions transparent.”
Scott Davis, an outspoken VA whistleblower, said he doesn’t think publishing the report will be effective at positively changing the VA.
There are concerns among VA staff that Shulkin’s office is targeting lower-tier employees when it should be focused on corrupt leadership, Davis said. The current list is primarily comprised of medical personnel and support staff such as housekeeping aides and maintenance workers. Less common are administrators.
Davis also thinks publishing the reports could silence whistleblowers or prompt retaliation.
“It’ll make employees afraid of speaking out about problems,” Davis said.
Joseph Burks, spokesman for VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System, said there’s support for Shulkin’s efforts to improve the VA.
“We at the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System take accountability very serious and are aligned with Secretary Shulkin’s priorities,” Burks said. “We feel the results of transparency equal improved trust from our veterans and the community we support.”