Senate confirms new VA inspector general

Michael J. Missal listens to opening statements at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on his nomination as Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Nov. 17, 2015, on Capitol Hill.


By DIANNA CAHN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 20, 2016

WASHINGTON — The Senate this week unanimously confirmed the nomination of Michael Missal as the new inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs, six months after Missal was first presented as nominee.

The vote comes at a time of reform at the VA, two years after it became embroiled in the latest ongoing scandal involving extended patient wait times, and VA medical centers were caught destroying or altering data to cover up veterans were waiting for months or even years for appointments with doctors. Some veterans died while waiting. Since then, other VA problems have emerged including wrongful handling of veterans’ claims and their mail, medical records and other documents.

“The key to true reform at the VA is critical oversight from both the inspector general and Congress,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “I look forward to working with Mr. Missal as we root out the problems and hold bad actors at the VA accountable. With veterans still waiting too long to receive their care and benefits, now is the time for strong oversight and a cultural change at the VA.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Missal, who is from the same state, would be key to restoring accountability at the VA and also to rebuilding people’s trust in the department.

Missal will be the first permanent leader at the IG’s office since his predecessor resigned in late 2013 under allegations that he had whitewashed investigations. He told senators during questioning in November that he planned to strengthen whistleblower protections once he is confirmed.

Missal comes to the VA with no experience as an inspector general. He formerly worked at the Securities and Exchange Commission and also as private counsel in cases involving Pennsylvania State University football coach Joe Paterno, President George W. Bush’s National Guard service and a high-profile Senate ethics investigation.

During his questioning by a Senate panel in November, some lawmakers questioned his ability to navigate the dangerous waters of an agency that has been so embroiled in scandal and cover-up.

Missal said his inspiration for working for the VA was his father’s service with the Army 286th Engineer Combat Battalion during World War II.

The confirmation came following repeated prodding by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which has been pressing the Senate to act on this and other votes needed to address issues at the VA.

In a statement Wednesday, the chairman of the House committee, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., welcomed the appointment but called for the Senate to do more.

“I’m glad that after a six-month wait, the Senate has finally confirmed a permanent Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general,” Miller said in a statement. “Now it’s time for senators to focus on the 21 veterans-related bills that have passed the House and are now gathering dust in the Senate.”

The bills include measures to help prevent suicides, better address accountability at the VA and improve mental health care, among others.

Twitter: @DiannaCahn