Allegations of VA Whistleblower

Dr. Steven Coughlin authored two of the largest studies the VA has conducted on Veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf War. He is also the highest level whistle-blower of the VA. Dr. Coughlin is a former senior epidemiologist in the Veterans Affairs’ public health department who quit the VA in December.

It is alleged that Dr. Coughlin’s information disappeared when it disagreed with unwritten department policies on health consequences of oil-well fires, burn pits, pesticides, nerve agents and other pollutants. Dr. Coughlin stated that “this applies to data regarding adverse health consequences of environmental exposures, such as burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, and toxic exposures in the Gulf War”. He added “On the rare occasions when embarrassing study results are released, data was manipulated to make it unintelligible.” He further alleges that his superiors warned him not to include data in his study that could establish a link between so-called “burn pits” in Iraq and asthma and bronchitis among Veterans. Such a link could make the VA responsible for costly medical treatments for Veterans.

Dr. Coughlin’s allegations are very disturbing. Coughlin recently testified before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He stated in his testimony that the Department of Veterans Affairs does this knowingly to avoid paying costly benefits.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently released a two-year study that includes data on the suicide deaths of Veterans. Dr. Coughlin expressed deep concern about the lack of follow up in 95% of those cases where Veterans had stated on forms that they were considering suicide and were better off dead. Coughlin believes some Veterans took their lives.

According to Coughlin’s testimony the VA is failing to serve Gulf War Veterans and their successors. The VA still denies research into the effects of exposure to Agent Orange during the Gulf War. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, General Eric Shinseki, has directed the Office of Research Oversight to review the allegations and report its findings.

Steven Coughlin resigned last year. When Dr. Coughlin was planning a second study and wanted to make sure that Veterans received follow-up, his supervisors began disciplinary action against him. Reprisal against whistleblowers is illegal. The VA stated, “Any retaliation against VA employees is against the law and is not tolerated by the Department.”

Mike Coffman who serves as chair of this House subcommittee is a Veteran of the Gulf and Iraq wars. Coffman commented that if these allegations are true, heads will roll and the VA needs to clean house.

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