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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 6th, 2014
05:36 PM ET

The VA's war on whistleblowers?

(CNN) – How did the Department of Veterans Affairs manage to keep a lid on its scandal involving outrageous wait times at its hospitals, until CNN blew that lid off in April?

Through a campaign by management of intimidation and fear, according to VA employees from all across the country, who have spoken to CNN.

"These are men and women who made the sacrifices for our freedom and to think that we can't work in a place where we feel that some of our freedoms are taken away, our freedom of speech, our freedom of expression, the fear and the retaliation is horrific," said Germaine Clarno, who works at the Hines VA Hospital in Chicago, and went public with accusations of secret waiting lists there.

Clarno claims others want to come forward, but they're afraid to.

But now, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating claims that the VA retaliated against 37 whistleblowers.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who took over after Eric Shinseki resigned over this scandal last week, says he won't stand for whistleblowers being intimidated in his department.

"That is absolutely unacceptable. I will not tolerate it in the organization and no matter where they happen to be in the leadership chain of command I will hold them accountable for that," Gibson said Friday.

Gibson has also admitted that 18 veterans did die while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA.

That's getting closer to the CNN reporting that preceded all of this; sources say at least 40 vets died in Phoenix while waiting for appointments.

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