A social worker at a Louisiana Veterans Affairs hospital is no longer under criminal investigation by his employer for accessing a secret list that he used as proof to show that 2,700 vets languished – including 37 who died – awaiting care.
It’s been a year since Shea Wilkes, a decorated Army Reservist, went to the media with evidence that the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport kept an off-the-books appointment list. The nationwide scandal that followed cost the VA secretary his job – and nearly cost Wilkes his position. He was demoted and harassed, and saw any future advancement evaporate while the VA Inspector General treated him as a suspect rather than a whistleblower.
On June 24, Wilkes’ attorney received a phone call: The Inspector General agents had dropped their probe.
“What they would’ve been investigating him for was accessing a list that wasn’t supposed to exist,” attorney Richard John said. “They had no intention of ever prosecuting him. They did it solely for purpose of intimidation. It has a chilling effect on other people coming forward as witnesses.”
Wilkes is left with a mix of relief and anger. Even though he’s in the clear, the VA has not restored Wilkes to his management-level job in the mental health division — he’s still a front-line social worker. He has one small upgrade: he was moved from the closet where he was banished last summer to an actual office with a window — but in an area isolated from coworkers.
This is the same VA hospital that ran out of linens, toiletries and pajamas for days on end, a Watchdog investigation found.
“My ability to move up in the VA is pretty much shot for coming forward with the truth,” said Wilkes, who has worked at Overton Brooks for eight years and has masters degrees in social work and business administration. “I pretty much knew when I came forward as a whistleblower my dream of one day becoming a VA hospital director was over.
“But coming forward has never been about me. It has always been about getting the vets the world-class care they deserve in a timely manner,” Wilkes continued. “That’s why I continue to fight no matter what the VA or anybody says.”
Wilkes leads a national contingent of VA whistleblowers. He says several others are also under the Inspector General’s microscope. To his knowledge, he is the only one who has been cleared, perhaps, he speculates, because he has been the most vocal.
Last fall Wilkes complained to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel that he was being harassed by the Inspector General and asked for protection as a whistleblower. It was granted. In March, Watchdog reported that the tables had turned: the OSC was looking into the possibility that the Inspector General’s actions were designed to intimidate Wilkes.
Apparently the OSC knew that Wilkes would be cleared earlier in the year but waited three months to notify him. After receiving the phone call, he asked for a report in a Freedom of Information Act request. The OSC sent him a short document titled, “WILKES, CHRISTOPHER – DATA BREACH – SHREVEPORT VAMC” dated March 24, 2015.
“There is no indication that Wilkes disseminated the information on the Excel spreadsheets to anyone. As a result, this matter will not be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for a prosecutive decision, and it is considered closed,” the report said.
The VA’s troubles began in 2013 when an audit revealed excessive wait times in Atlanta. This was followed by a whistleblower in Phoenix, Wilkes in Shreveport, and others around the nation – each reporting hundreds of thousands of vets waiting years to see doctors, with many dying in the process. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in May 2014 and President Obama brought in a replacement who vowed to clean up the mess.
What had I read recently?
That a huge proportion of those vets on active waiting lists are dead.
The ONLY way to get vets world-class care is to do away with ObamaCare and get them into regular hospitals and doctor’s offices, destroying the entire Vets hospital arrangement completely.
I seem to remember Obama saying he encouraged whistle-blowers. I guess he meant those that blow the whistle on anything from the previous administration.
Wilkes is an outstanding human being…not to mention a courageous guy.
I was going to say the same thing Bill said regarding Obama’s whistleblowing Lies.
It is a travesty how our Vet’s are being treated in various (Government Run) Hospitals in this Country.
Our Veterans are such Hero’s and deserve to be treated so much better.
One reason I can get behind Trump on this. Disabled vets are in my background so it is an issue near and dear to my heart. I am appalled by the dishonor this Administration shows our Veterans.
I am appalled by the disrespect this reservist, Christopher Wilkes has been shown for pointing out major descrepencies many it seems resulted in unnecessary and untimely deaths of many of our Nation’s hero’s.