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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

VA Settles with Psychologist Who Claimed Retaliation for Whistleblowing



CHARLES S. CLARK


The Veterans Affairs Department agreed to settle and pay compensatory damages to a staff psychologist who was demoted and subjected to a hostile work environment after exposing time-and-attendance fraud and other financial irregularities, the Office of Special Counsel announced on Tuesday.

David Tharp, a specialist in the post-traumatic stress disorder program in Waco, Texas, worked with the OSC to arrive at a settlement that includes adjusted pay, compensatory damages and “other actions to make him whole,” the office said.

Tharp joined VA’s Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans in July 2009 as a team leader. According to the OSC’s account, he soon reported “research and financial improprieties and waste, including improper diversion of research funds; falsification of records; and failure to conduct any published research” on traumatic brain injury and PTSD. He also alleged that the office was not adequately using a multimillion-dollar mobile MRI scanner on patients.

Tharp’s manager, identified as Dr. Suzy Gulliver, “took steps to prevent him from earning the same pay as the other team leaders,” the special counsel said. “She also refused to give him performance appraisals and denied Dr. Tharp the bonuses that were given to his peers.”

In September 2010, Tharp relayed his reports to the VA Inspector General before deploying to Afghanistan as an Air Force reservist. While overseas, he provided detailed testimony to the IG, who in a February 2012 report backed his claims. When Tharp returned from active duty, his manager “forced him to take a different position doing administrative and technical support work unrelated to psychology,” the OSC said. The manager then retired.

“Dr. Tharp has served our nation and veterans both in uniform and as a civilian. He deserves our gratitude for his disclosures to improve care at the VA,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, adding that two veterans associations had commended Tharp for his work. “I appreciate the VA’s efforts to work with OSC to settle Dr. Tharp’s meritorious claims.”

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