First the White House Office of Special Counsel started an investigation into the embattled VA. Now it’s the turn of the Department of Health and Human Services for evidence that VA officials repeatedly accessed whistleblower medical records in retaliation — violating HIPAA laws.
Whistleblower Brandon Coleman was notified Wednesday that the HHS’ Office of Civil Rights has been investigating since May 1 his complaint that the VA used his confidential medical records in a campaign to intimidate him.
The revelation of an inter-agency legal struggle comes two weeks after a Senate hearing in which Coleman and other whistleblowers blasted the VA for using their own medical records to smear them.
Since then, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has introduced a bill outlining penalties for illegal use of whistleblower medical records.
“The VA has proven time and time again they cannot be trusted to police themselves, in order to fix this mess we need accountability,” Coleman told Watchdog, adding that he hoped this latest investigation would change what he called a culture of retaliation at the VA. Many VA whistleblowers are veterans themselves and have used the mental health services to combat PTSD. The records are ripe for picking by unscrupulous VA officials, he added.
“On Jan. 20, 2015, I was pulled into a meeting with my section chief Dr. Carlos Carrera where he questioned my mental health,” said Coleman, a counselor with the Phoenix VA Health Care System, who had seen a psychiatrist after he was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1994. “I told him that in three years he never once questioned my mental health, but now that I’m a whistleblower he is worried about my mental health? The timing was highly suspect.”