A bill to protect whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee by a unanimous vote of 16 to 0 on December 9.
The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2015 (S. 2127), is named for Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, a whistleblower from the VA Medical Center in Tomah, Wis., who took his own life after being fired for questioning excessive prescription practices at the facility. Dr. Kirkpatrick’s brother, Sean, testified at a committee hearing in September about the retaliation his brother faced after blowing the whistle at the Tomah facility.
The legislation, introduced by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), will strengthen penalties for those who retaliate against whistleblowers, add protections for probationary period employees, give greater authority to the Office of Special Counsel to investigate prohibited personnel actions, and ensure federal employees have a greater knowledge of whistleblower protections.
Johnson said this after the vote:
“Dr. Kirkpatrick strove to provide the best possible care to our nation’s veterans. In his memory, our committee passed this bill to make needed reforms. The bill also ensures that accessing the medical file of another employee to retaliate against the employee for blowing the whistle — something that we have seen happens all too often at the VA — is prohibited and punished. I applaud the unanimous, bipartisan passage of this bill, and I will work with my colleagues toward its passage by the full Senate.”
Sen. Johnson’s letters on the Tomah VAMC can be found here.