Editorial Column: Why Whistle-Blowing is Patriotic

Austin American-Statesman

August 23, 2008 – I recently witnessed instruments of music inspire patriotism at the Chicago Air and Water show. Actor Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band — named for the character Sinise played in the film “Forrest Gump” — led a crowd of thousands in tribute to our wounded warriors. Actor Bill Murray threw care to the wind by parachuting from the sky with the Army’s Golden Knights.

The rally was attended by many wounded warriors, and it was beautiful to see how they were honored and given such attention by Murray and others.

Here in Texas, we honored those returning home with combat-related traumatic brain injury with a rally and 5K run on Flag Day.

All that served as a reminder that acts of patriotism come in many forms. I suggest that whistle-blowing of fraud, waste and mismanagement of the public trust and resources is also an act of commitment to the integrity of our democracy.

The Office of Special Counsel, an organization whose primary mission is to protect federal employees from prohibited personnel practices — especially reprisal for whistle-blowing — suggests that:

“A whistle-blower is an ordinary hero who helps America function when it wants to slip into self-interest and faction … Today, we hear of wasteful government bureaucracies, bloated hand-out programs, unheralded pork and corrupt self-dealing. While there is some truth in this, media over-coverage of such matters distracts us from focusing on solutions. Solutions lie with ordinary Americans. When we see something wrong, we need to blow the whistle … Is it easy doing these things? No, but it is far less easy for whistle-blowers themselves. Their history is one of being singled out and reprised against. It goes back far in mankind’s history, to Sophocles who wrote, ‘Nobody likes the man who brings bad news.’ “

An updated watch-word to potential whistle-blowers might be that everyone loves to admire a whistle-blower but no one wants to hire one. However, we as citizens all need to blow the whistle to protect the integrity of our democracy, use of public funds and resources and to uphold our commitment and services to those, as Lincoln said, who have “borne the battle,” our wounded heroes of war.

With a new generation of veterans, many thousands of whom have traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder or other chronic problems, we must not lose sight of our obligation to those who have served us.

Van Boven’s VA disclosures led to the discovery of hundreds of thousands of dollars of waste, funding of questionable science by an untrained investigator and suspect billing practices by a contractor working without a contract at Central Texas VA.

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