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Internal Veterans Affairs watchdog retires amid criticism

PWASHINGTON ai??i?? The acting inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs is retiring, a year after he issued a scathing report on problems at the Phoenix VA hospital.

Richard J. Griffin, who has led the inspector general’s office since January 2014, said he is retiring Saturday after 43 years in federal service. He was deputy inspector general for more than five years before taking the top job.

Richard J. Griffin

Richard J. Griffin

In a May 2014 report, Griffin cited problems at the Phoenix hospital over long patient wait times and falsification of records to cover up the delays. The report and resulting scandal led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Griffin faced criticism from some lawmakers and VA whistleblowers who asserted that he had not done enough to hold VA leadership accountable for problems including overprescription of narcotics.

A doctor who first exposed serious problems at the troubled Phoenix hospital said a report by Griffin’s office last August on patient deaths was a “whitewash” that minimized life-threatening conduct by senior leaders at the Phoenix facility.

The report said hospital workers falsified waiting lists while their supervisors looked the other way or even directed it, resulting in chronic delays for veterans seeking care. The report said investigators identified 40 patients who died while awaiting appointments in Phoenix, but said officials could not “conclusively assert” that delays in care caused the deaths.

Dr. Samuel Foote, a former clinic director for the VA in Phoenix, said the report appeared designed to “minimize the scandal and protect its perpetrators rather than to provide the truth.”

Griffin disputed that characterization and rejected suggestions by several GOP lawmakers that the report was altered at the request of top VA officials. The sentence declaring that investigators could not “conclusively assert” that delays in care caused any patient deaths was inserted for clarity to summarize the results of clinical case reviews, Griffin said.

“Neither the language nor the concept was suggested by anyone at VA to any of my people,” he said.

Assistant Inspector General Linda Halliday will serve as acting IG.

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