Whistleblower Voices — Jacqueline Garrick “Connecting with peers is like raising your own army to fight back.”
The National Whistleblower Center celebrates and amplifies the voices of whistleblowers and fights for stronger whistleblower protections worldwide. This community blog will highlight these stories, giving you firsthand experiences from the brave whistleblowers who will be part of our July 30th National Whistleblower Day Celebration. Check here every week in July for intriguing stories from real-life heros!
In the third installment of this series, we hear from Jacqueline “Jackie” Garrick, founder of Whistleblowers of America:
I was shocked the first time someone called me a whistleblower. It was 2015. I was on the phone with Human Resources at the Pentagon trying to understand what was happening to my career. The person on the phone was explaining how retaliation related to my disclosure over suicide prevention contracts and conflicts of interest could be perceived as a prohibited personnel practice, and she was rattling off investigative agencies I should contact and actions I should take.
It was a blur. I stumbled through. The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General would not investigate my complaints — twice. They sent me to the Office of Special Counsel and eventually to the Merit Systems Protection Board, where finally an Administrative Judge agreed that I could demonstrate that the animus against me and hostile work environment I endured had caused me harm. The most cathartic moment was not the win, but the opportunity to read the nasty emails Defense senior leaders wrote about me to the Judge during the hearing. I was awarded a disability retirement. That was five years after my first complaint.
Before whistleblowing, I had spent over 30 years of my career around combat veterans focused on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide prevention. I knew a lot about trauma, but the first time I awoke from a nightmare about my Pentagon perpetrators, my heart was racing, and I suddenly felt desperate to find someone to talk to about everything that was happening. I found other employees inside the Pentagon and then at other agencies who understood, which was the beginning of Whistleblowers of America (WoA).
As we voluntarily shared stories and supported each other, the WoA network grew to over a thousand connections in just a few years. The WoA peer support model is an evidence-based intervention that takes a trauma-informed perspective to assist survivors overcome victimization, similar to programs for veterans and first responders. The stories that my whistle-sisters and brothers were sharing were reminiscent of the language of war. They were in a “fight for their lives, doing battle, and feeling betrayed by leaders.”
For some, the damage caused by retaliation can last for years, like combat, and can be a result of the prolonged exposure to workplace traumatic stress and a hostile environment that requires vigilance against adverse forces. Therefore, being united with a peer in speaking truth to power helps instill hope, build resilience, and restore a sense of mission and purpose for the whistleblower still in the midst of their war. Connecting with peers is like raising your own army to fight back.
Stigma and retaliation are traumatic stressors that can become toxic to the psyche. These tactics are meant to destroy the employee who makes the disclosure. These toxic tactics needed a taxonomy and a lexicon, which WoA has researched and classified as gaslighting, mobbing, marginalizing, shunning, devaluing, double-binding, blacklisting, counter-accusing, and violence/bullying with sub-properties and indicators. Retaliation victims may struggle with moral injury, identify disruption, shattered world views, and a thwarted sense of belonging or purpose. This can lead to PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, unemployability, disenfranchisement, divorce, or homelessness.
To help employees overcome this adversity, WoA established the Whistleblower Protection Advocate (WPA) certification program and launched its Workplace Promise Institute (WPI). The institute trains WPAs in peer support ethics and skills, a trauma-informed perspective on retaliation, and whistleblower protection laws and applicable judicial proceedings. The first WPI conference will take place September 9 and 10, 2021, with registration still open. WPA is an emerging profession that WoA hopes to see instituted across multiple sectors that can commit to rightdoing and building an independent advocacy base for resilience within their workforce because everyone deserves a safe place to work.
Jacqueline Garrick, LCSW-C, SHRM-CP, WPA
Please join the National Whistleblower Center, the sponsor of Whistleblower Voices, in celebrating National Whistleblower Day 2021. National Whistleblower Day is an annual celebration commemorating the contributions of whistleblowers like Jacqueline Garrick around the world who have bravely stepped forward to expose waste, fraud, and abuse.
This year’s celebration will be an all-day virtual event featuring a wide range of speeches from whistleblowers, policymakers, and advocates as well as a series of panels on pressing whistleblower issues. And, Jacqueline Garrick is a featured speaker! RSVP here.