Obama’s pet watchdog left veterans out in the cold

The New York Post
By: Betsy McCaughey

Driven out by whistleblowers, Acting Inspector General of the Veterans Administration Richard Griffin finally resigned last week. Good riddance.

Griffin had whitewashed and concealed information about inadequate care and phony waiting lists and tried to retaliate against truth-tellers.

But don’t expect real improvement at the VA. Griffin’s successor is another bureaucratic lifer, Lin Halliday. She’s been collecting a paycheck from the VA Inspector General’s Office since 1992, while the deadly problems festered. President Obama seems to like that approach.

On July 2 in Wisconsin, whistleblower Ryan Honl — a Gulf War veteran — urged Obama to appoint an independent inspector general: “If they just pick someone new from inside the agency, it will be business as usual and the problems will continue.” But Obama brushed him off, saying VA Secretary Robert McDonald “had it covered.”

Sorry. That’s just not true.

Only the president can appoint an inspector general. Federal law requires that the Veterans Administration and other departments have outside inspectors general to guard against corruption and mismanagement. Obama simply refuses to appoint them, allowing the vacant offices to be filled instead by “acting” IGs like Griffin and Halliday.

They’re lapdogs instead of watchdogs, compliant temporary placeholders from inside the system.

The VA needs a real watchdog to clean up. Veterans’ advocates say the president refuses to appoint one because he fears the political consequences of more scandals coming to light. Better to keep problems hidden.

On June 3, Sen. Ron Johnson (R.-Wisc.) held a hearing on the president’s refusal to appoint IGs. The White House essentially told Johnson to pound salt — that is, no one from the White House would testify. Johnson tried to get a former White House staffer, Jonathan McBride, who’s now at the financial firm BlackRock, to testify. But the White House directed McBride and BlackRock not to cooperate.

Refusing to appoint inspectors general and then stonewalling Congress. That suggests more than a smidgeon of corruption.

Daniel Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, a good-government group, said for Hillary Clinton’s entire tenure at the State Department, Obama refused to appoint a permanent IG.

Consequently, “oversight” at State was in the hands of the ultimate insider, acting IG Harold Geisel, who’d served as an ambassador under former President Bill Clinton and remains a close friend of the Clintons: The very definition of a lapdog.

It’s unlikely Hillary would’ve gotten away with using private e-mails year after year “had there been a real watchdog in place,” Danielle Brian, executive director of Project on Government Oversight (POGO) told Congress.

That’s true of the deadly mischief at the VA as well. Obama has refused to fill the VA inspector general’s job since December 2013. Until last week, Griffin was the placeholder. Instead of monitoring VA performance, he did just the opposite, covering up and punishing whistleblowers.

Pressured by the White House, Griffin actually changed the wording in a draft report on vets dying at the Phoenix VA in 2014 to understate fatalities.

When the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and POGO put up a Web site asking VA workers with firsthand knowledge of problems to come forward, some 800 did. Within weeks, Griffin tried to subpoena their names. “It had a chilling effect,” said Brian.
These are typical tricks from acting IGs, who tend to hide bad news rather than report it. Apparently, that’s what Obama wants.

But it leaves vets out in the cold, like two I spoke with last week. Earl Figgeroa called me about the whopping bill he’s stuck paying for a civilian cardiologist, while the VA bureaucracy gives him the runaround.

Donald Schultz, a Vietnam vet whose VA doctor told him he needed emergency surgery for a hernia — on March 6 — complained to me that he’s still in constant pain and waiting.

Despite what Obama says, no one’s got these vets covered. Or millions like them.