When Jay Ellis learned his wing commander had called an all-hands meeting on Jan. 9, 2019, the Air Force master sergeant already knew why.

The day before, the Associated Press had reported that Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin was calling for an investigation into incidents of sexual assault and harassment at the 115th Security Forces Squadron, the Wisconsin National Guard unit where Ellis was assigned. Ellis, a 48-year-old military policeman who reported the issues to Baldwin in November, claiming senior leaders had done little in response, was now being portrayed in news articles as a whistleblower who had exposed an apparent cover-up that had gone on for nearly two decades.

That morning at Truax Field, a small guard base in Madison next to a civilian airport, Air Force Col. Eric Peterson addressed the article and vowed to take the allegations seriously, Ellis recalled. "We don't tolerate this kind of stuff," Peterson said. In the following days, Ellis received messages from other military members, some of whom had seen similar problems in their own units, praising him for doing the right thing.

"There are many people against you," an Army officer wrote Ellis. "By no means are you alone. ... I am immensely proud to know that I serve with individuals such as yourself."

A six-month investigation triggered by Ellis' complaint would later reveal a pattern of wrongdoing throughout the Wisconsin National Guard, leading to the resignation of its top officer in December 2019. But instead of being praised for doing the right thing, Ellis claims, some leaders retaliated against him, methodically built a paper trail, then tried to force him out of the Air Force before he could retire.

"For me, it's right or wrong," Ellis told Task & Purpose. "The only way to change it is to stand up and say something."

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A special Veterans Affairs office created in 2017 to protect whistleblowers and punish incompetent or corrupt VA employees has been a colossal failure, according to a blistering investigation released Thursday by the VA's inspector general.

The report comes as the VA district that includes Georgia replaced top leadership last month and the main regional hospital in Decatur for military veterans undergoes an investigation of medical practices amid widespread problems. Regional VA employees lodged close to 300 complaints with the inspector general in the last two years, ranging from retaliation against employees by superiors to abuse of authority.

The inspector general said the nationwide Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) failed from top to bottom. Investigations were incompetently carried out and biased. The office also failed to protect whistleblowers' identities and allowed their information to get back to the people or offices being investigated, letting whistleblowers become the subjects of retaliatory investigations.

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A federal court has denied Pratt & Whitney's efforts to dismiss a whistle-blower suit accusing the aerospace giant of falsifying inspection reports and selling billions of dollars of possibly defective jet engines to the military between 2012 and 2015.

Pratt has been trying to kill the suit since it was first filed, under seal, in 2016. But Judge Janet C. Hall, in a decision made public Wednesday, said the latest version of the complaint by former Pratt engineer of metallurgist Peter J. Bonzani, Jr. can proceed because it contains information Bonzani recently obtained about the company's F119 engine contract with the U.S. Air Force.

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Joel Marrable (Laquna Ross via CNN)

Dawn Brys got an early taste of the crisis unfolding at the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in the Southeast.

The Air Force vet said she went to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur last year for surgery on a broken foot. But the doctor called it off because the surgical instruments hadn't been properly sterilized.

"The tools had condensation on them," recalled Brys, a 50-year-old Marietta resident. The doctor rescheduled it for the next day.

Now the 400-plus-bed hospital on Clairmont Road that serves about 120,000 military veterans is in a state of emergency. It suspended routine surgeries in late September after a string of incidents that exposed mismanagement and dangerous practices. It hopes to resume normal operations by early November as it struggles to retrain staff and hire new nurses.

The partial shutdown came about two weeks after Joel Marrable, a cancer patient in the same VA complex, was found covered with more than 100 ant bites by his daughter. Also in September, the hospital's canteen was temporarily closed for a pest investigation.

The mounting problems triggered a leadership shakeup Sept. 17, when regional director Leslie Wiggins was put on administrative leave. Dr. Arjay K. Dhawan, the regional medical director, was moved to administrative duties pending an investigation. Seven staff members were reassigned to non-patient care.

The only question for some military veterans and staff is why the VA waited so long. They say problems existed for years under Wiggins' leadership, but little was done.

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Photo: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

If you thought the chaos descending on Washington was anywhere close to clearing up, I have bad news for you: A second whistleblower has come forward.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has ordered a substantial reduction in the staff of the National Security Council, according to five people familiar with the plans, as the White House confronts an impeachment inquiry touched off by a whistleblower complaint related to the agency's work.

Some of the people described the staff cuts as part of a White House effort to make its foreign policy arm leaner under new national security adviser Robert O'Brien.

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