Before CNN broke the news of Veteran Affairs’ secret patient waiting lists which left veterans dying, before the onslaught of Congressional Committee hearings into Veterans Affairs’ (VA) lengthy appointment delays, and before General Eric Shinseki stepped down from his post as Secretary of Veterans Affairs amid reports of “gaming the system,” Oliver B. Mitchell, III, had warned officials of internal abuses that could have prevented some patient deaths. Instead of recognizing Mitchell’s disclosure as an early warning of a broken system, the VA minimized the grave concerns Mitchell witnessed during the Bush-Obama transition period.
Oliver B. Mitchell III is an African American and a U.S. Marine Veteran who served during Desert Storm from 1991 to 2002. After serving honorably in the military, he later began a career with the VA. Today, however, the former Patient Scheduling Clerk is both jobless and homeless as a consequence of “blowing the whistle” on VA’s internal mismanagement. A lawsuit Mitchell filed in 2013 chronicles his established discrimination and retaliation complaints against the federal agency.
According to court records, in 2008 Mitchell worked for the Greater Los Angeles’ (GLA), the service area for roughly 1.4 million veterans. Months after assuming his duties, which included scheduling in-patients and out-patient services at the VA’s Medical Center Radiology Department, Mitchell attended a “System Redesign” meeting. During the meeting, Oliver Mitchell states he witnessed schemes to manipulate patient records from an electronic waiting list. Mitchell reported that one VA employee, struggling to meet performance measurement demands, suggested that to catch up on the patient backlog that the VA should —“start booking newer patients first. It isn’t good medical care; but it plays the system.”
In March 2009, Mitchell filed a complaint with the VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). He reported the “gaming the system” scheduling tactics that resulted in denying veterans timely access to care. He also reported how he had been instructed to destroy medical requests for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and computed tomography (CT) scans as a method to resolve VA’s ten-year patient appointment backlog. Unfortunately, VA’s OIG closed out Mitchell’s complaint after a VA top-official denied wrong-doing.
In June 2009, Mitchell filed a separate complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). He provided the OSC with documents and AUDIO-taped evidence to support the claims he had reported earlier to the VA’s OIG. Despite the gravity of Mitchell’s claims, the OSC abandoned Mitchell’s case. Subsequently, a month after contacting members of Congress, Mitchell, who had previously achieved “Excellent” ratings, was constructively removed him from federal service.
Since Mitchell’s early disclosure and notably within recent months, countless of employees have boldly stepped forward to report wrong-doing within the VA’s healthcare system. As if a revelation, media highlights the excruciating plight of federal whistleblowers, the VA offers an astounding apology, and Congress continues to hear testimony from whistleblowers, some who served as medical doctors at VA facilities. Nevertheless, veteran Oliver B Mitchell, III, the former GS-5 Patient Scheduling Clerk who advocated for timely healthcare for our nation’s returning military, remains homeless. He currently represents himself pro se informa pauperis as he awaits justice in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
From within the shelter where veteran Mitchell now resides, he steadfastly awaits the Office of Special Counsel’s reply to his most recent request. He ponders if the investigative agency, which is to safeguard employees from reprisal for whistleblowing, will ever investigate the glaring claims he brought forward some six years ago telling of abuse of authority, unlawful violations, and dangers to public health and safety.
1 Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD!
3 Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.
7 For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still.