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Sen. Kirk talks whistleblowing, misconduct, corruption at Hines VA hospital

HINES – U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., met Friday with Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital whistleblowers to outline allegations of misconduct and corruption at the hospital, according to a news release from the senator.

The meeting came the same day U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki resigned, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hines social worker Germaine Clarno, who is also president of the Local 781 AFGE Union, and two unnamed physicians, discussed allegations of secret wait lists, falsified reports and ongoing corruption that may have contributed to the sickness and possible deaths of Illinois veterans, Kirk's release said.

“The stories I have heard today from these Hines employees have shown that there is little to no protection for employees that speak out against a culture of corruption and falsification of reports,” Kirk said in the release. “Those willing to share their experience about veterans' care should be protected from retaliation or intimidation.”

Hines officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Kirk said in a May 14 news release he supported an investigation of the hospital after allegations that Hines officials used secret wait lists to conceal long wait times for veterans seeking medical care arose.

In a May 21 letter about the investigation to Inspector General of Veterans Affairs Richard J. Griffin, Kirk cited an internal VA memo dated May 8, 2014, from Hines VA Director Joan Ricard, where she reportedly said, “there have been instances across the VA where staff has taken steps to make wait times look better.”

He also referenced Freedom of Information Act requests in the letter, which reportedly show that since 2011 more than $16.6 million in bonuses were awarded at Hines and that between 2002 and 2011 there were five instances at the hospital where alleged delays in referrals, consultations, diagnoses or treatment may have resulted in veterans' deaths.

More than 600,000 patient visits were made by more than 54,000 veterans to Hines in fiscal year 2010, according to the hospital's website.

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