Washington DC -- Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy, chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing & Insurance, today lauded the unanimous passage of the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act. The bipartisan bill adds protections for probationary period whistleblowers who are retaliated against; ensures federal employees have a better understanding of whistleblower protections and their rights; and sets minimum discipline standards across all agencies for retaliation. It also ensures that accessing the medical file of an employee in retaliation for blowing the whistle – something that OSC says happens all too often at the VA – is treated as a prohibited personnel action and that supervisors are punished accordingly. It also requires the VA to come up with a plan to restrict unauthorized employee access to medical files.
Congressman Duffy statement for the record:
“Mr. Duffy. Mr. Speaker, today, Congress will have an opportunity to vote on legislation that will bolster protections for whistleblowing patriots, while vastly improving care for veterans at the VA. The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act is the product of hundreds of hours of Congressional hearings, meetings with stakeholders, and hard work by dozens of lawmakers here in Washington, to make sure that the tragic abuse that Dr. Kirkpatrick faced will never happen again. As some of you may know, Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick was a clinical psychologist at the VA in Tomah, WI. He was a veteran, a graduate of Northwestern University, and a caring individual who dedicated his career to providing innovative treatments for veterans suffering from PTSD. Most notably, he created a yoga program to help vets at the VA in Chicago. He was known to be very well-liked by the patients he served.
“In 2009, Dr. Kirkpatrick expressed concerns that his patients were being heavily over-medicated. It became so bad, he said, that he was unable to properly do his job. He wanted to do what was right for veterans, and as a veteran himself, he couldn’t stand to see how careless some of the VA staff were being with high levels of dangerous medications. Unfortunately, instead of looking into Dr. Kirkpatrick’s claims, the facility’s chief of staff told him to mind his own business, and to instead focus on his own work. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Kirkpatrick was called to a disciplinary meeting and given a written reprimand.
“This type of retaliation went on for months.
“Then, in July, Dr. Kirkpatrick complained again that a dangerous veteran had not been properly discharged, despite recommendations from a treatment team. A week after making the complaint, Dr. Kirkpatrick was fired from the VA.
“He was devastated. He begged for an opportunity to stay, and expressed concerns that he had been given too many complex cases, and that the emotional toll was too high. Again, his concerns were ignored.
“That night, Dr. Kirkpatrick wrote a note to his girlfriend in Chicago, another to the kennel he wanted to take care of his dog, and one final note for the mailman. It read: ‘Please call 911 – tell them to go to red barn building.’
“He had taken his own life. He was 38 years old.
“Dr. Kirkpatrick’s death was the product of a broken system-- a system that encourages retaliation against whistleblowers, while ignoring the underlying causes of their concerns.
“If Dr. Kirkpatrick’s death wasn’t tragic enough, a subsequent investigation at the VA found that a patient had died from ‘mixed drug toxicity,’ and that Dr. Kirkpatrick’s concerns were completely warranted. Not only did whistleblower retaliation cost Dr. Kirkpatrick his life, it cost the life of a patient as well. That’s why I urge you all to vote yes on the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act.
“A yes vote means that VA personnel will no longer be able to access a whistleblower’s medical records as means of discrediting them, which a separate investigation found happens far too often. A yes vote means that federal agencies have to notify the Office of Special Counsel when a suicide takes place. A yes means clear disciplinary actions for supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers, training for supervisors on how to properly respond, and a requirement that employees are made aware of the mental health services at their disposal.
“A yes vote also means keeping upholding normal burdens of proof to strengthen protections for employees. This legislation calls for the Inspector General, Office of Special Counsel, or a Merit Systems Protection Board Administrative Judge to “determine” that a supervisor has committed a prohibited personnel action, meaning through the normal preponderance of the evidence for any other disciplinary action under Chapter 75 of title 5. This does not mean some arbitrary process for some bureaucrat to create later on. I want to be clear: this legislation strengthens protections for patriots—for those who are trying to do the right thing. For those who care about veterans and their safety. And for folks like Dr. Kirkpatrick, so that no one ever has to go through what he went through.”
- USA Today profiled Dr. Kirkpatrick of the Tomah VA, who was harassed, reprimanded, and fired for being a whistleblower. On the day of his firing, Dr. Kirkpatrick committed suicide. Click HERE.