VA taps interim chief for medical inspector office

The Veterans Affairs Department has tapped a new interim chief for its Office of Medical Inspector (OMI), as the unit faces harsh criticism over its treatment of whistleblowers.

Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson on Thursday named Gerard Cox, who joined the VA in January and previously served as a U.S. Navy medical officer for over 30 years, to run the department.

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“In response to the revelations by the Office of Special Counsel, we need new leadership and a fresh look from outside of OMI to assist in this transition,” said Gibson in a statement. “I expect Dr. Cox to help us restructure OMI to better serve Veterans and create a strong internal audit function, which will ensure issues of care quality and patient safety remain at the forefront.”

Cox’s appointment comes after the U.S. Office of Special Counsel last month detailed how OMI officials routinely claimed “harmless error” as a defense for patient neglect allegations instead of taking corrective steps.

The VA has been rocked by a scandal over falsified waitlists that hid delayed medical appointments for veterans, including several who died awaiting care.

Gibson on Tuesday announced the medical inspector office would be restructured and that temporary fixes, including having its patient hotline rerouted to the VA Inspector General, had already taken place.

The agency came under additional scrutiny on Tuesday when members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee at a hearing blasted the VA for its handling of whistleblower complaints.

The Office of Special Counsel is looking into 67 claims of retaliation by VA managers against employees who lodged complaints, including 25 filed since June 1, special counsel Carolyn Lerner told the panel.