The Department of Veterans Affairs’ acting inspector general today said that he will step down at the end of the week, after a group of whistleblowers called for his ouster and 10 senators wrote to President Barack Obama demanding his replacement.
In a statement announcing his retirement, Deputy Inspector General Richard Griffin touted his office’s “extraordinary accomplishments,” including 11,350 arrests, indictments, convictions and administrative sanctions over the past six years.
Griffin had been under fire for more than a year, following a scandal in Phoenix related to veterans dying while waiting for appointments. That scrutiny intensified in January, when The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed the existence of a secret March 2014 report on overprescription of narcotic painkillers and abuse of administrative authority at the VA hospital in Tomah, Wisconsin.
Opiates flowed so freely, CIR reported, that veterans had come to call the hospital “Candy Land.” Current and former hospital staff described patients who showed up to appointments stoned on painkillers and muscle relaxants, dozed off and drooled during therapy sessions, and burned themselves with cigarettes.
They said that the hospital’s chief of staff, psychiatrist Dr. David Houlihan, doped up or “zombified” their patients and that workers who raised questions were punished. Last August, 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski died of an overdose inside the hospital’s psychiatric ward.
The resignation was the latest in a series of events that have followed the report.
After the story ran, politicians quickly seized on the inspector general’s unpublished report, which the agency watchdog had quietly closed despite finding that Houlihan’s opiate prescriptions “raised potentially serious concerns” that should be brought to the attention of the federal agency’s leadership.
“The problems surrounding the Tomah VAMC have led veterans and VA employees to question not only the leadership at the facility but at the VA Office of Inspector General,” wrote Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, in a Jan. 22 letter to Obama demanding that Griffin be replaced.
In their letter to Obama this week, the group of 40 VA whistleblowers calling themselves VA Truth Tellers said Griffin was “unable to fulfill the responsibilities and duties” of the job.
“Our nation’s veterans have earned and deserve better,” they wrote. “Mr. Griffin should be relieved of duty immediately.”
The whistleblowers, who came from VA facilities in more than a dozen states, included Ryan Honl, a Gulf War veteran and former secretary at the Tomah VA who brought the problems at the Wisconsin facility to CIR’s attention last fall.
This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.