MADISON, Wis. – As multiple federal investigations continue into the Social Security Administration’s troubled Chicago Region, allegations of a new form of retaliation are surfacing.
And this time the whistleblower retaliation, sources say, is crossing over federal agencies.
The source, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said a fellow employee in the office obtained her VA records – including military service, medical and other personal information.
“Everything has been compromised,” the whistleblower said.
She said the co-worker got the records from a friend who works in the VA system.
“He was bragging about it and discussing it with a group of (staff members),” said the source, who learned of the alleged records breach from sources close to the situation.
The co-worker allegedly was upset that the whistleblower was quoted in Watchdog.org’s investigative series about widespread allegations of misconduct and retaliation at ODAR facilities. She said the co-worker relayed information that he would have only known by reading the personal file.
“This particular person does not like me. I don’t know why. I’m okay with that. You can hate someone, but you can’t do stuff like that,” the whistleblower said.
The whistleblower contacted the VA’s privacy officer, and the agency was following up with an IT investigation to determine who accessed the whistleblower’s records without her consent.
“He emailed me and told me he was having both the local and IT people run some type of record scan all the way back to April to find out who had access to my file.” The investigation is expected to take up to 10 days, the source said. The privacy officer also promised to secure the documents so no unauthorized person could obtain them.
The whistleblower also filed a complaint with the SSA’s Office of Inspector General.
Medical records are considered confidential information under federal privacy rules established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). SSA and VA employees are strictly prohibited, on threat of job loss, from releasing personal information.
Another whistleblower, Ron Klym, who was a long-time senior case technician at the Milwaukee ODAR, said there is concern that other staff members may have had their medical records compromised.
An SSA spokesman did not return an email seeking comment. SSA repeatedly has said it cannot comment on personnel matters or ongoing investigations. The VA’s Office of Inspector General could not be reached for comment.
Klym was fired in August after going public with myriad accusations of misconduct and retaliation at the Milwaukee ODAR. Klym, in Wisconsin Watchdog’s series, “Deadly Delays,” provided documentation of hundreds of long delayed Social Security disability claims cases, some in the system for 800 or more days. Attorneys told Wisconsin Watchdog that some claimants have died waiting for a decision. Klym asserts the delays are a violation of claimants’ due process rights.
Klym claims his position was terminated because he shed light on waste, fraud and abuse within the federal agency.
This week he sent a letter to SSA Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin asking that he be reinstated immediately while multiple investigations into ODAR continue. He said Colvin did not respond. Klym has asked for help from his congresswoman, Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee. He said he has received silence in response.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, launched an inquiry into the Social Security Administration in June. Johnson is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Five months later, the committee still is waiting for SSA to fulfill information requests. Committee insiders say staff members are trying to make sense out of the unspecified emails and other documents SSA has sent thus far.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, has warned the SSA not to retaliate against whistleblowers. She has written at least two sternly worded letters about her concerns regarding sexual harassment, retaliation and other misconduct at the Madison and Milwaukee ODAR operations.
Meanwhile, the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General continues its investigations into the agency. A source with knowledge of the situation tells Wisconsin Watchdog that the OIG is expected to wrap up its probes sometime after the first of the year.
“OSC (the Office of Special Counsel) is heavily involved, too,” the source said.
The source says she continues to receive “veiled threats” from SSA officials.
Just what the whistleblowers’ status is remains “murky.”
“No one seems to know what that is,” one source said.
The OIG and the OSC do not comment on investigations.
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