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VA medical inspector retires after scathing report

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Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson spoke in Washington on June 18.

WASHINGTON » The chief medical inspector for the Department of Veterans Affairs has retired, following a report that his office downplayed whistleblower complaints outlining serious problems at VA facilities across the country, acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said Wednesday.

Dr. John R. Pierce had served as medical inspector since 2004 and was deputy medical inspector for two years before that.

Pierce’s office came under scrutiny last week, after the independent Office of Special Counsel issued a scathing report that identified "a troubling pattern of deficient patient care" at VA facilities around the country. The problems were pointed out by whistleblowers but downplayed by the medical inspector and other top officials, the report said.

Gibson met with Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner Tuesday and reaffirmed his commitment to prevent retaliation against employees who identify or report problems.

In a June 23 letter to President Barack Obama, Lerner cited canceled appointments with no follow up, drinking water that had been contaminated with the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease and improper handling of surgical equipment and supplies. One veteran was admitted to a long-term mental health facility but didn’t get a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation for eight years, Lerner said.

Gibson said last week he was deeply disappointed by the allegations and vowed a quick response. A departmental review of the special counsel’s report is due by July 7.

Pierce is one of a half-dozen high-ranking officials who have resigned or retired from the VA following a national outcry over reports of patient deaths, widespread treatment delays and falsified records at VA facilities nationwide. The outcry led to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation in late May. Since then, several other officials have resigned, including the agency’s top health official and the man who replaced him as acting undersecretary for health. A third man who had been nominated by Obama for the top health job withdrew.

The agency’s general counsel and assistant secretary for congressional and legislative affairs also have left in recent weeks.

On Monday, Obama nominated former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald to be VA secretary, saying his experience managing one of the world’s most recognizable companies would help McDonald "deliver better results" at the VA.

Gibson said Wednesday that Leigh Bradley will join VA temporarily as his special counsel. Bradley is a former VA general counsel and currently serves as director of the Defense Department’s Standards of Conduct Office, where she is responsible for the Pentagon’s ethics program.

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