By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in support of legislation that would secure greater protections for federal whistleblowers and increase penalties against those who retaliate against them.
S.585, the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act, strengthens penalties for those who retaliate against federal employee whistleblowers, adds protections and opportunities for whistleblowers placed on probation and ensures all federal employees have a greater knowledge of whistleblower rights and protections.
“My experience working to clean house at our Central Alabama VA taught me a fascinating and frustrating truth about the culture in some parts of the VA,” Roby said on the House floor. “Last week marked three years since the Director of the Central Alabama VA became the first senior manager in the country fired as a result of the waitlist scandal. That was a major step toward turning around one of the nation’s worst VA systems and restoring trust with the veteran population it serves.
“The system routinely goes out of its way to protect those who don’t do their jobs or even harm veterans, but then goes after those who try to stop that misbehavior.”
Roby specifically mentioned Central Alabama whistleblowers, Sheila Meuse and Rich Tremaine, who faced severe retaliation from VA officials because they cooperated with Roby’s investigation and told the truth about mismanagement, negligence and even criminal behavior inside CAVHCS.
“Two brave individuals in particular – Sheila Meuse and Rich Tremaine – told me the truth about major instances of misconduct and mismanagement when nobody else would,” Roby said. “Seeing no other way to achieve change, they finally told their story to the media at great personal risk to their careers,” she said. “Had it not been for the courage of those on the inside to expose this wrongdoing, the world might never have known. To me and to the veterans whose lives they might have saved, they are heroes. But, that’s not how they were treated by VA officials. They were treated as enemies and outcasts – all because they tried to do the right thing. That is just wrong and its time to punish those who do it with harsher penalties.”
Roby said that S. 585, the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, “strengthens penalties against those who retaliate against whistleblowers, adds protections and opportunities for whistleblowers placed on probation, and ensures federal employees have a greater knowledge of whistleblower rights and protections.”
“Specifically, this bill forbids a supervisor from taking or threatening to take action against an employee because they refuse to obey an order that would violate a law, rule, or regulation,” Roby said. “I want to thank Senator Ron Johnson for his persistence in pushing this legislation even after former Senator Harry Reid shut it down last Congress.”
The bill is named after Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, a VA employee who took his own life after being subjected to cruel retaliation from VA officials. “I hope it puts in perspective the immense emotional burden that victims of retaliation face,” Roby stated.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, is the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“The dedicated men and women who take a risk to expose wrongdoing and waste in the federal government deserve the respect and support of our nation,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, too often these courageous individuals are subjected to retaliation in an attempt to silence them. This must stop, and I’m pleased the Senate acted today to support veterans and whistleblowers across the federal government by passing the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act.”
“When there are acts of corruption and mismanagement at the VA, we must make sure whistleblowers are protected when they come forward about this mistreatment so that we can address it,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a combat veteran said. “It is so important that we make sure our veterans are receiving the quality and timely care they deserve. I’m grateful to work with Senator Johnson to move this legislation through the Senate and become one step closer to better protecting our whistleblowers and improving our VA system.”
S.585 was passed by the Senate unanimously, and the House is scheduled to vote on the bill this week.
Roby is an attorney and former Montgomery City Council member. She represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District.