MADISON, Wis. – The investigation into an alleged breach of a Social Security Administration employee’s private records appears to be going nowhere fast, even as another probe found wide-ranging misconduct in a Madison SSA office.
The employee, a whistleblower at the SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, told Wisconsin Watchdog that a federal investigation of the alleged records violations is “still in process.”
She said she also was told by an attorney for SSA’s Office of the Inspector General that the individual who had accessed her records without her consent “might have resigned.”
The whistleblower, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said she doesn’t know what to believe. But she said she is growing increasingly concerned that, again, the scandal-plagued federal agency is not taking complaints of misconduct seriously.
“I’m very upset and troubled by all of this. There is my medical records, everything is there, exposed. It’s supposed to be private,” the ODAR employee said. “They keep telling me they are taking it seriously, but I don’t think they are.”
The source, who had previously brought to light other allegations of misconduct inside the Wisconsin ODAR office, said another employee in the office obtained her VA records – including military service, medical and other personal information.
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 employee, 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 could have known only by reading the personal file.
The whistleblower contacted the VA’s privacy officer and was told the agency would follow up with an IT investigation to determine who accessed the whistleblower’s records without her consent.
On Jan 3, following an investigation that was supposed to take 10 days, a VA official informed the whistleblower in a letter that the “results of the fact finding were inconclusive and we were unable to substantiate the allegation that a VA employee disclosed your military service time to an unauthorized party.”
The extent of the “fact finding” involved interviewing staff members at the VA office in question, effectively asking them whether they sent the private information without consent, according to the whistleblower.
She asked whether the “fact finders” had tracked the email and interviewed witnesses to the security breach. She was told the VA did not have the jurisdiction and referred her to the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General.
The whistleblower said she was recently told by a Social Security Administration attorney that the OIG’s investigation is ongoing and that while she could not verify it, “the person who had accessed my records without my consent might have resigned.”
A call to the inspector general’s office was not returned Friday.
An SSA spokesman repeatedly has declined to comment on personnel matters.
“I have only had contact with an attorney in the SSA/OIG office. I have not been interviewed by an investigator, and I have no knowledge of an investigator even being assigned to investigate my complaint,” the whistleblower wrote to U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office.
Until recently, Baldwin staff members had been serving as an intermediary in the matter. The whistleblower said Baldwin aides have in recent days stopped returning her calls. As Wisconsin Watchdog reported earlier this week, Baldwin has left the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which last June opened an inquiry into allegations of corruption and retaliation at Social Security Administration offices in Madison and Milwaukee.
The ODAR whistleblower said the slow pace of the investigation is particularly frustrating because she provided investigators with the email address of the Social Security Administration employee alleged to have received the unauthorized records, and has given OIG the names of multiple witnesses.
The inspector general’s office this week posted a summary of its findings in a lengthy investigation into the troubled Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.
Not much information has been released about the OIG’s reported probe into the Milwaukee ODAR regarding serious allegations of due process violations and whistleblower retaliation.
Ronald Klym, a 16-year employee with the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, in May went public with records showing a massive backlog of disability claims cases in Milwaukee.
Records showed cases from Green Bay, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and other smaller communities in the Milwaukee ODAR coverage area had waiting times longer than 650 days.
Dozens of cases on appeal took more than 700 days to complete. One Green Bay case clocked in at 862 days to dispose of. A Marquette request for benefits hit 1,064 days, and another was completed in 1,126 days.
In the first story in Wisconsin Watchdog’s multi-part series Deadly Delays, Klym said things got rough for him at the office after he alerted senior officials and, later, lawmakers about a litany of conduct and due process issues at ODAR
“Absolutely. I am being punished because I am a whistleblower,” said Klym, who alleged harassment, additional work assignments and unreasonable deadlines.
Things got rougher two and a half months later when the agency fired Klym. He continues to wait for his appeal hearing, which repeatedly has been delayed.
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