House Republicans are taking substantial measures to ensure that whistleblowers, such as those caring for our veterans in the VA, are protected from corruption and retaliation in the federal workplace.
Much of what we know about Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick and his time at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center comes from the exchanges he shared with union representative and head of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 0007, Lin Ellinghuysen.
“Try to carry on in your per-usual professional manner and know this, Chris – there is a lot going on here…Unfortunate but true – there are employees who are suffering a great deal worse … and I don’t want you to join their ranks.”
-Lin Ellinghuysen in an email to Dr. Kirkpatrick, April 2009.
The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (S. 585) is named for Dr. Kirkpatrick, a 38-year-old clinical psychologist who worked at the Tomah VA Medical Center in 2009. During his short time at Tomah, Dr. Kirkpatrick witnessed disturbing medication practices and expressed concern. His complaints cost him his job, leading the doctor to eventually commit suicide.
Dr. Kirkpatrick and the Tomah VA
In early 2009, Dr. Kirkpatrick complained that a number of his patients were too drugged for him to treat properly. Instead of having his concerns properly addressed, Dr. Kirkpatrick was called to a disciplinary meeting and given a written rebuke.
A few months after the incident, Dr. K, as he was affectionately known, reported that one of his patients had threatened to harm him and his dog. A treatment team decided the patient should be discharged, but he never was.
Kirkpatrick wrote about the incident in the patient’s record and then took the next two days off to care for his own mental health. When he returned the following Tuesday, he was summoned to another disciplinary meeting. This time he was fired.
Kirkpatrick believed at the time that his abrupt dismissal was in retaliation to his voiced concerns and criticisms. Ellinghuysen concurred. Others did not.
That night, Kirkpatrick emailed his girlfriend to tell her he loved her. He left contact information for a kennel to care for his dog. And he left a suicide note for the mailman.
Now, eight years later, a VA investigation was finally launched after it was revealed that a veteran died at Tomah last August from “mixed drug toxicity”. Kirkpatrick’s concerns had been warranted.
The investigation uncovered that Tomah veterans were 2.5 times more likely to get high doses of opiates than the national average. Further inspection revealed that retaliation against whistleblowers has become a major problem at VA facilities across the country. Right now, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating 110 retaliation claims from whistleblowers in 38 states and the District of Columbia.
According to Lin Ellinghuysen’s notes, Kirkpatrick urged her to protect future employees from such retaliatory actions.
“His dying declaration was to not let what happened to him happen to anyone else,” Kirkpatrick’s sister told USA Today, “Legislation must be put into place to help strengthen whistleblower protections.”
And it is.
On Thursday, October 12, House Republicans passed the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which provides additional protections to federal employees who are retaliated against for disclosing waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government. Specifically, the legislation increases protections for federal employees, increases awareness of federal whistleblower protections, and increases accountability for supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers.
This legislation is about protecting men and women like Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, whose lives have been destroyed for doing what was right. The disciplinary measures called for in this bill will protect whistleblowers from retaliation in the federal workplace. We must ensure that federal agencies maintain the highest possible standard, especially agencies like the VA, where decisions concerning life and death are being made on a daily basis.
We want to hear from you! Tell us what you think of the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act.
Read Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers Statement on the Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act.
To learn more about what House Republicans are doing for everyday Americans, visit DidYouKnow.gop.