Improprieties at Hines VA hospital focus of Senate hearing on Friday

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The mistreatment of veterans and retaliation against whistleblowers at the Hines Veterans Administration Hospital near Maywood will be the focus of a U.S. Senate hearing in Chicago on Friday.

More than a year and a half ago, the dark side of the VA first came to light -- veterans dying while waiting for care, corruption in the executive ranks and retaliation against staffers who tried to blow the whistle.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and individuals scheduled to testify at the hearing said things have not improved and may have gotten worse. Some of them spoke to the ABC7 I-Team exclusively on Thursday.

The hearing, which will be at the Dirksen Federal Building in the Loop, is being held by Illinois Sen. Kirk, a Republican, who chairs the powerful Veterans Appropriations Subcommittee.

"I want to make sure that after 23 years in the Navy Reserves that my fellow veterans are protected in the best way possible," Kirk said. "Protecting those who protect our veterans and to make sure that whistleblowers who see a veteran mistreated don't have anyone retaliate against them."

Germaine Clarno, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 781, which represents employees at the VA facility, is scheduled to testify at the hearing.

"Putting fear into employees is still going on. It happens every day in fact I think that it has gotten worse to really silence the employees," said Clarno, a Hines VA social worker.

Clarno adds: "It's not about the veteran. It's about other self-centered motives. And to me, I think America needs to understand exactly what is going on. We need to stand up together as Americans and say we are not going to have this go on any more. Our veterans deserve better."

More than 100 whistleblowers at 50 VA facilities have reported corruption, much of it affecting patient care. Whistleblowers, including former Hines cardiologist Dr. Lisa Nee, are scheduled to testify on Friday.

"Not only are veterans being harmed but your taxpayer dollars are being wasted," Nee said.

Kirk said he's doing his best to help veterans.

"I've even had them talk to the White House deputy chief of staff; to the secretary of Veterans affairs, to ask them to change this culture of corruption inside the VA," Kirk said.

A spokesperson for Hines VA said employees work diligently to create a collaborate, problem-solving environment that they hope is conducive to the needs of veterans

At the hearing, a different point-of-view is expected to be heard.
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