VA whistle-blower settles and gets a new job

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Veterans denied care and forced to wait months just to see a doctor.  An alleged cover-up to make it seem like business as usual.

Those were the serious allegations leveled by whistle-blowers at the Phoenix VA.  Now, one VA employee tells 3TV she was retaliated against as others went public, and was punished by being reassigned to a basement to do busywork.

Paula Pedene was the face of the Phoenix VA Hospital for years.  Then she spent almost two years worrying about her family, future and reputation. Monday, she got her professional life back.

The Veterans Day parade is a long-time Phoenix tradition and Paula Pedene helped organize the event as the VA spokesperson. Then we didn’t see her after December, 2012.

“I had a gag order on me and no one knew what was happening,” Pedene said.

We learned Pedene had been a whistle-blower, alerting the VA about mismanaged funds and a hostile work environment in 2010.  When director Sharon Helman was brought in, there were accusations Pedene revealed insider information.  And Pedene found herself in the basement library.

“I had to fax documents, make copies, check books in and out and sign patients onto computers,” she said. “That's what I've done for 22 months on the taxpayers' dollars.

Now, she has been vindicated by the US Office of Special Council.  Pedene and two other whistle-blowers received a settlement from the VA.

“They dredged as much as they could,” she said with a smile.  “Went back 12 years and couldn't find anything.”

After almost two years, Pedene is ready to heal and move on with a new job inside the VA system focusing on health education.  She is hoping the hospital can back to making patient care its first priority.

“Do you have any faith system can heal itself?” Fields Moseley asked.

“I think what they did today,” she replied.  “Makes a strong statement.  Would I have thought that 6 months ago?  No.”