Department of Veterans Affairs officials vowed to crack down on whistleblower retaliation Tuesday during a congressional hearing on the VA's $182 billion budget proposal.
"We do not tolerate retaliation and we'll deal with it if we see it," VA Secretary Robert McDonald said during an appearance before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
The VA has faced intense criticism for allowing employees who retaliate against whistleblowers to go unpunished, especially in the wake of a national wait-time scandal that erupted in spring 2014.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, noted no action has been taken against VA managers accused of retaliating against whistleblowers at the agency's Cincinnati hospital, where dozens of whistleblowers recently came forward to report dangerous conditions that put veterans' treatment at risk.
"Let's do the investigation before we convict people," McDonald said.
Members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee raised concerns about a variety of problems that have plagued the VA, from a perceived lack of accountability for misbehaving employees to the growing backlog of veterans' appeals requests.
McDonald cited the VA's effort to scale back employee bonuses as an example of the agency's commitment to accountability.
The hearing came one day after the VA reinstated a pair of employees accused by the agency's inspector general of stealing $400,000 from taxpayers.