VA quietly drops criminal investigation of whistleblower after year of intimidation

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A social worker at a Louisiana Veterans Affairs hospital is no longer under criminal investigation by his employer for accessing a secret list that he used as proof to show that 2,700 vets languished -- including 37 who died -- awaiting care.

It's been a year since Shea Wilkes, a decorated Army Reservist, went to the media with evidence that the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport kept an off-the-books appointment list. The nationwide scandal over wait-times cost the VA secretary his job -- and nearly cost Wilkes his position. He was demoted and harassed, and saw any future advancement evaporate while the VA Inspector General treated him as a suspect rather than a whistleblower.

On June 24, Wilkes' attorney received a phone call: The Inspector General agents had dropped their probe.

"What they would've been investigating him for was accessing a list that wasn't supposed to exist," attorney Richard John said. "They had no intention of ever prosecuting him. They did it solely for purpose of intimidation. It has a chilling effect on other people coming forward as witnesses."

Wilkes is left with a mix of relief and anger. Even though he's in the clear, the VA has not restored Wilkes to his management-level job in the mental health division -- he's still a front-line social worker. He has one small upgrade: he was moved from the closet where he was banished last summer to an actual office with a window -- but in an area isolated from coworkers.

This is the same VA hospital that ran out of linens, toiletries and pajamas for days on end, a Watchdog investigation found.

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