Chairman Jeff Miller (R., Fla.) accused the Department of Veteran Affairs on Thursday of continuously stonewalling members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and their staffers.
“I agree that our relationship between VA and this committee must change,” Miller told Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson in his opening remarks, “using the phrase ‘continue to work openly’ is, in my opinion, not a reflection of the current reality that we find ourselves in.”
The committee requested information on the firing of whistleblower Javier Soto, but Miller said the VA has obstructed the investigation in an effort to hide what he believes were retaliatory actions.
“For example, the day after our July 14th VBA hearing, our colleague, [Rep. David Jolly (R., Fla.)] personally spoke to Kerrie Witty, the director of the St. Petersburg Regional Office, and asked for information regarding the firing of Mr. Javier Soto, a whistleblower who testified at that hearing,” Miller said. “But instead of being open and honest about the process about Mr. Soto’s removal, the VA has equivocated, stonewalled, changed its story, and obstructed members of this committee in what appears to be an attempt to cover up … VA’s retaliation against Mr. Soto.”
“We’re prepared to subpoena the documents if that’s what it takes. We’ve got to get compliance with the multiple requests that we’ve made to this department,” Miller warned.
The committee has previously complained about the lack of cooperation with the agency.
The committee heard from three whistleblowers at the Veterans Benefits Administration on July 14. Miller showed the committee an image of a notepad owned by an official at the VBA Philadelphia office. The notepad, Miller explained, contained names of whistleblowers meeting with the committee and the name of a staffer who should be “ignored.” The director of the VBA’s Philadelphia Office reportedly gave the directive.
When asked if any official had been held accountable for this kind of retaliation, Acting Secretary Gibson told the committee no one had been and went on to say he had “no doubt” retaliation was still occurring.
Gibson estimated that the Office of Special Counsel was investigating around 70 retaliation cases, and said he was waiting to receive their findings.
“I can articulate over and over again the expectation that we’re not going to tolerate that behavior, but until I’ve got a set of facts, that I can act on, I can’t take the action.
“I can’t take the personnel action. And so nobody is more anxious than I am to have that opportunity,” said Gibson.
“This morning, I checked again, have we gotten anything from the Office of Special Counsel? The answer was yes; we just got two. Tuesday morning, we’ll have investigators on the ground.”