- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The acting director of the Veterans Affairs Department’s investigative arm said Tuesday that he will step down after facing criticism from both whistleblowers and members of Congress that he has interfered in the agency’s investigations to protect VA leadership.

Richard Griffin, the acting director of the VA Office of the Inspector General, said in a letter to staff that this Saturday will be his last day, capping a career in federal government that has lasted more than 43 years.

“I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to serve with you at the VA OIG for more than 14 years and to have worked with such a dedicated team of men and women who have constantly demonstrated their courage, integrity and passionate commitment on behalf of our nation’s veterans,” Mr. Griffin said in a statement.

He came under fire last year at the height of the VA scandal after a whistleblower alleged at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA. When the inspector general released a report clearing the VA of any wrongdoing in those deaths, lawmakers alleged that Mr. Griffin changed the report at the request of VA leadership and the White House to cover-up links between the deaths and protect the department’s leaders.

Dr. Sam Foote, the VA whistleblower who revealed the problems in Phoenix, called the report a “whitewash.”

Concerned Veterans for America applauded the departure of Mr. Griffin and reissued a call to the president to nominate a permanent inspector general.

“His departure is long overdue,” said Pete Hegseth, the group’s CEO. “While acting as IG, Griffin diminished the effectiveness and trustworthiness of the Office of Inspector General by whitewashing the deaths of veterans at the Phoenix VA, withholding documents from members of Congress, and not publicly releasing IG reports that document misconduct within the VA.”

A bipartisan group of senators said last week that nominating a permanent VA inspector general is “long overdue” and called last week for the president to choose someone to take over the vacant position, which Mr. Griffin has filled in an acting capacity since January 2014. The senators wrote that permanent inspector generals are seen as more independent by the public and are often more willing to tackle long-term issues within agencies.

“It is imperative that you nominate a permanent IG for the VA to provide stable leadership and oversight of the agency,” the group wrote in the letter. “Over the past two years, the VA has faced well-documented challenges, including the failure to provide timely health care nationwide. A permanent IG would help to address these failures and would play a critical role in auditing and evaluating VA programs.”

Mr. Griffin first came to the VA in 1997 after a 26-year career at the Secret Service, including serving as that agency’s deputy director. During his first stint the helm of the VA IG office, Mr. Griffin oversaw investigations into a VA hospital in New Jersey, concluding that care was adequate despite more than half of the workers surveyed at the hospital saying they were understaffed, the Newark Star-Ledger reported in 1998.

After leaving the VA in 2005, Mr. Griffin began a job as assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, where he was responsible for overseeing contractors providing security for military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He abruptly resigned from that job in October 2007, a month after contractors from Blackwater USA were involved in a shootout that left 17 Iraqis dead — one of a series of reports that the contractors were too quick to shoot in confrontations with locals.

He returned to the VA as deputy inspector general about a year later and has been serving as the office’s director since January 2014.

Lin Halliday, who currently serves as the VA’s assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations, will take over the deputy inspector general role Mr. Griffin is vacating, he said in the letter to staff.

• Jacqueline Klimas can be reached at jklimas@washingtontimes.com.

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