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Sound familiar? Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth accused of retaliation at VA

By   /   June 24, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 32 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. — The accounts of retaliation against whistleblowers at Wisconsin’s Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center are stunning, but they are far from isolated in a government-run veterans services system under fire for an array of abuses.

In neighboring Illinois, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth is being sued in a long-standing workplace retaliation lawsuit related to her time as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Democrat, who is challenging first-term Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican, is accused of silencing a whistleblower, and approving inaccurate and punitive performance reviews that cost two employees at a southern Illinois veterans home bonuses and raises.

Duckworth and her campaign claim the seven-year-old lawsuit, dismissed twice, is politically driven. Her taxpayer-funded legal counsel from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office have argued the employees were guilty of “insubordination.”

AP file photo

DUCKING QUESTIONS: U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., has at times declined to comment about the state lawsuit accusing the former Illinois VA director of retaliation.

Her accusers assert their claims of ethics violation are very real, and that Duckworth and her surrogates have dragged their names through the mud to protect her political aspirations.

A federal court in 2008 tossed out a similar lawsuit, declaring it a “garden variety workplace case.”

But an Illinois circuit court judge last month ordered the case to go to trial, scheduling arguments for Aug. 15.

At the time, Duckworth said she was more than ready for the truth to come out at trial. Her campaign spokesman said Duckworth was “looking forward to this politically-motivated case reaching its conclusion after seven years and multiple delays.”

Now, her campaign is fending off charges the former state VA director is welcoming a settlement before the civil case goes to trial.

“What is crystal clear is that Duckworth does not want the truth to come out,” Kevin Artl, Kirk For Senate campaign manager, said in a statement. “After weeks of dodging questions about whether or not she will testify at her own trial, Duckworth is now answering that question by engaging in behind the scenes settlement talks in order to avoid a trial and having to take the stand. What makes this situation even more egregious is that Illinois taxpayers will ultimately have to pay the bill for Duckworth’s improper actions.”

As the Chicago Tribune reported, the settlement conference was initiated by the judge, as such pre-trial negotiations often are.

Duckworth’s powerful Democratic friends in Illinois politics were quick to pounce on that point. And the disabled Iraq War veteran’s campaign spokesman, Matt McGrath, told the Tribune that Kirk should have “more knowledge of, and respect for civil procedure.”

Whistleblower advocates charge that Duckworth should have had more respect for employees who were attempting to point out misconduct within the agency. The former state VA director had to reverse a decision firing one of the plaintiffs after Duckworth was told she had not followed her agency’s written procedures.

Kirk’s campaign has made the lawsuit a focal point of the campaign, underscoring the taxpayer costs involved.

An open records request shows four assistant state attorneys general have worked on the lawsuit since it was filed in 2009. The average salary of the attorneys was $69,156. The Attorney General’s office would neither disclose how many hours the attorneys have spent on the lawsuit, nor would they say how many hours were spent on outside counsel.

Duckworth, a former Blackhawk pilot who lost both of her legs during the war, has campaigned on better care and greater access for veterans. She also has insisted on greater transparency and accountability from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Meanwhile, she has been silent about a buried Office of Inspector General report that found the federal VA agency she ran between 2009 and 2011 wasted $5.2 million on an outreach initiative that failed to show any appreciable results.

RELATED: Report criticizes Duckworth for wasting $5.2 million on failed VA marketing campaign

Her office did not return a request for comment.

Charges of political failures surrounding the troubled VA system have become all-too-familiar in recent years.

In Wisconsin, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Madison Democrat, was at the center of an investigative report that found her office failed to respond to whistleblowers’ concerns of painkiller overpriscription and accompanying retaliation at the Tomah VA hospital.

Other Wisconsin lawmakers, too, have been accused of failing to act.

A recently released report by the majority on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee found “system failures” and a “culture of fear” that led to a long list of misconduct, abuse and retaliation. Ultimately, the failure to act, according to the report, cost veterans lives.

Similar allegations of intimidation can be found in the lawsuit against Duckworth, who is seen as a Democratic Party hope to pick off a vulnerable Senate seat.

Part of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal
  1. After damaging silence, Baldwin now calls for probe of troubled VA center
  2. Legal expert says U.S. Sen Tammy Baldwin is in full ‘damage control’
  3. Baldwin aide breaks silence, alleges senator engaged in ‘coverup’
  4. Baldwin’s public relations team kicks into high gear following ethics complaint
  5. Ethics watchdog urges Senate committee to investigate Baldwin
  6. Tammy Baldwin’s political fixer is helping Hillary attack voter ID
  7. Senate committee asking if FBI missed the call in veteran’s death at VA
  8. When lawmakers failed Wisconsin’s veterans
  9. Is political pressure behind Lin Ellinghuysen’s differing accounts on VA memo?
  10. Bernie Sanders failed to act in deadly VA scandal, whistleblower says
  11. Does government union chief’s threat show AFGE’s hand on veterans care?
  12. What would Russ Feingold’s 1992 self say to the 2015 version?
  13. Ad attacking Feingold asserts veterans died because of ‘politicians who looked the other way’
  14. Feingold’s campaign caught up in VA scandal memo war
  15. PolitiFact Wisconsin trusts Russ Feingold to deliver its facts
  16. Sources: Ron Kind received call from Jason Simcakoski not long before Marine’s tragic death
  17. Captain Campaign Finance Reform, Russ Feingold, changes ‘dark money’ tune
  18. Baldwin talks transparency while keeping her secrets in Tomah VA scandal
  19. Ron Kind knew about Tomah VA abuse years before the story broke
  20. Ron Kind now solving Tomah VA scandal one press release at a time
  21. Tammy Baldwin silent on her failures as she blasts Tomah VA medical center
  22. Tomah VA whistleblower says he’s getting pressure from unhappy Dems
  23. Feingold’s facts fail again in face of Tomah scandal
  24. Senate field hearing to shine more light on Tomah VA scandal
  25. Tomah VA supervisor accused of misconduct gets promoted
  26. Senate hearing to look deeper into scandal-plagued Tomah VA hospital
  27. Kind flees questions, Senate committee turns up heat on Tomah VA hospital scandal
  28. Report: Tomah VA hospital story is one of ‘systemic failures’
  29. Tomah VA hospital whistleblower: ‘It will not change’
  30. Ron Kind breaks silence on call from veteran victim at Tomah VA hospital
  31. VA union holds rally to save itself, Tomah whistleblower says
  32. Sound familiar? Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth accused of retaliation at VA
  33. Emails say Tomah VA patient reached out to Feingold, Kind, in 2008 about abuse
  34. Johnson: Hold accountable those who put Tomah veterans at risk of HIV, hepatitis
  35. Veteran jumps out of third-floor window at Tomah VA hospital
  36. Tomah VA employee: ‘We have forgotten who we work for’
  37. Congressional committees want answers on Tomah VA hospital
  38. Senators ask Pence, Trump transition team, to hold troubled VA accountable
  39. Veterans advocate: VA hospitals’ ‘improvement’ doesn’t tell whole story
  40. Tomah VA Medical Center’s ‘Candy Man’ stripped of license
  41. Opinions differ on whether it’s ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ at Tomah VA
  42. Latest data show Tomah VA hospital improving in opioid prescriptions, veteran satisfaction
  43. VA secretary nominee faces little resistance, lots of challenges
  44. Insiders: Tomah VA troubles continue with nurse shortage, neglectful care
  45. VA whistleblower has questions for Congressman Ron Kind
  46. Johnson brings back whistleblower protection bill as Sunshine Week opens
  47. Iraq war veteran burned by ‘very frustrating process’ at VA


M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.