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Why I blew the whistle on the VA

(NEW YORK TIMES)

By Sam Foote

My decision to become a whistle-blower after 24 years as a physician in a Veterans Affairs hospital was, at first, an easy one. I knew about patients who were dying while waiting for appointments on the V.A.’s secret schedules, and I couldn’t stay silent.

But there was no response to the two letters I sent to the Veterans Affairs inspector general, one in late October 2013 and one in early February. Going public would damage an institution I gave more than two decades of my life to, trying to make a better place for veterans to get their care. But I had to be able to sleep at night.

I retired from the Phoenix V.A. medical center in December 2013. When there was no reply to my February letter, I contacted Eric Hannel, a staff director for the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and told him what I knew. I also contacted Dennis Wagner, a reporter at The Arizona Republic, who had already been reporting on the problems at the Phoenix V.A. hospital.

The inspector general for Veterans Affairs has opened an investigation, and after meeting with members of his team in Phoenix, I have faith in the job that they are doing. But I have very little in the internal V.A. inspection that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki is conducting through the Veterans Integrated Service Network, the umbrella structure created when the V.A. radically decentralized its health care operations in 1995.