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Johnson brings back whistleblower protection bill as Sunshine Week opens

By   /   March 13, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 46 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is re-introducing legislation aimed at protecting federal whistleblowers from the kind of retaliation that, sources say, proved fatal at the scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah.

AP file photo

‘IN MEMORY OF’: Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, have reintroduced the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act. The bill, named after a Tomah VA whistleblower who took his life after being fired from the scandal-plagued hospital, aims to protect federal employees who step forward to report waste, fraud and abuse.

Johnson, R-Wis., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, last week announced they are bringing back the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act — just in time for National Sunshine Week.

The bill bears the name of the 38-year-old clinical psychologist who fatally shot himself in July 2009 after being fired from the Tomah VA facility. Kirkpatrick had questioned the medical center’s overprescription practices of opioids and other patient care concerns.

“Individuals who expose wrongdoing at VA medical facilities should be thanked and listened to, not silenced and subject to mistreatment,” Johnson said in a press release. “I’m pleased to partner with Sen. Ernst to ensure future whistleblowers like Dr. Kirkpatrick receive the support they deserve.”

The bill strengthens penalties for those who retaliate against whistleblowers, adds protections for probationary period employees and ensures federal employees have a greater knowledge of whistleblower protections, according to the senators.

Johnson is chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which in May published a comprehensive report titled, “The Systemic Failures and Preventable Tragedies at the Tomah VA Medication Center.”  The 359-page report lays out a long list of misconduct, abuse and retaliation charges over several years, and nearly as many red flags that critics say, had they been heeded, could have saved lives.

As USA Today reported in April 2015, Kirkpatrick had complained about patients being too drugged to treat. Other whistleblowers reported being retaliated against for raising similar concerns.

The story published a few months after the Center for Investigative Reporting broke the news about the opioid prescription problem at Tomah that claimed the life of a 35-year-old Marine veteran.

RELATED: Tomah VA Medical Center’s ‘Candy Man’ stripped of license

At a committee hearing in September 2015, Kirkpatrick’s brother, Sean, testified about the retaliation his brother faced after bringing allegations of wrongdoing to the attention of Tomah VAMC administrators.

The senators say their bill implements a number of suggestions Sean Kirkpatrick made at the hearing to improve whistleblower protections throughout the VA.

“This commonsense legislation would help to safeguard whistleblowers who speak up about corruption and mistreatment in our VA system, and take additional steps to hold retaliators responsible,” said Ernst, a combat veteran. “Efforts to fix the VA must be protected, not punished, as we work to improve access to timely and quality care for our nation’s veterans.”

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act unanimously in May. However, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., effectively killed it as one of the Senate minority leader’s many parting shots against GOP legislation before retiring.

“What happened to Chris is outrageous,” Sean Kirpatrick told USA Today in April 2015. “My hope and family’s hope is that people will take action so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected]

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.