The head of the Office of the Medical Inspector for Veterans Affairs has retired, just over a week after a scathing letter and report criticized that office for failing to adequately respond to complaints from whistleblowers and downplaying the severity of problems at some VA facilities.

From USA Today:

The chief medical inspector for the Department of Veterans Affairs has retired after an independent report found his office downplayed complaints about serious problems at VA hospitals and other health facilities.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson announced the retirement Wednesday of John Pierce, a doctor who had served as medical inspector since 2004.

The independent Office of Special Counsel’s report last week identified “a troubling pattern of deficient patient care” at VA facilities.

It said deficiencies had been identified by whistleblowers but downplayed by the medical inspector and other top officials.

Pierce had come to the VA as Deputy Medical Inspector in January 2002 and served as Medical Inspector since November of 2004, according to his VA bio. He served on active duty for thirty years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

A letter and report sent to the White House last Monday by Carolyn Lerner of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal agency that investigates complaints from federal government whistleblowers, cited several examples in which the Office of the Medical Inspector (OMI) failed to acknowledge that some of the problems at a number of VA facilities had any impact on patient care. Lerner specifically called out and was highly critical of the response from the OMI to disclosures from whistleblowers.

“I remain concerned about the Department’s willingness to acknowledge and address the impact these problems may have on the health and safety of veterans,” Lerner wrote in the letter. “The VA, and particularly the VA’s Office of the Medical Inspector (OMI), has consistently used a “harmless error” defense, where the Department acknowledges problems but claims patient care is unaffected. This approach has prevented the VA from acknowledging the severity of systemic problems and from taking the necessary steps to provide quality care to veterans. As a result, veterans’ health and safety has been unnecessarily put at risk.”

Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs also announced that two other agency officials were stepping down from their posts.

And earlier this week, President Obama announced former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as his pick for VA Secretary. If confirmed, McDonald would replace Eric Shinseki, who resigned in late May.

[Featured image: CNN video]