Whistleblower Paula Pedene thought she had found her dream job. But her commitment to honesty and integrity led to a nightmare – one that should infuriate every one of us. Her story is chronicled in the book “A Sacred Duty; How a Whistleblower Took on the VA and Won.”
Paula enlisted in 1978 and became a Navy journalist. She re-enlisted for the Gulf War but a hereditary eye disease eventually ended her military career. In 1994 she was appointed the first full time Public Affairs officer for the Phoenix Veterans Administration Health Center. She led the Phoenix VA to national recognition and awards.
However, a new administrator who was inclined to his own betterment rather than putting the Veterans first led to her first conflict. He delayed and denied care in order to secure additional equipment. Dr. Sam Foote was the original whistleblower in this situation and approached Paula about reporting the conditions and she agreed to step up. An internal investigation found $ 11 million in shortfalls but Paula was branded.
Incoming administrators sought out minor infractions to punish Paula, literally exiling her to the basement. What was supposed to be a 30 day investigation turned into two years in limbo. But she would not give up. The new administrators were “gaming the system” in order to secure performance bonuses. They were literally keeping two sets of appointment books. Testimony and later investigations revealed that as many as 3.500 Veterans were stranded on these “alternate” lists and 1,800 could not secure primary care appointments. Some died while waiting for appointments.
Eventually, thanks to many allied whistleblowers within the VA, Congress and the media, the Phoenix VA state of affairs (and similar situations around the country) was finally brought to light. Of the 156 VA hospitals nationwide, similar wait list situations were occurring at 111 of them. Paula received redemption.
TAKEAWAY: “The Veterans Administration is an agency with a very noble mission. But the bureaucracy sometimes lets bad actors maneuver and it needs a culture change.”