Senate approves new Veterans Affairs watchdog

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is getting a new top watchdog after its last Senate-confirmed inspector general stepped down at the end of 2013. 
The Senate approved Michael Missal’s nomination by a voice vote Tuesday evening. He was nominated by President Obama in October. 
{mosads}Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said an inspector general “who will boost the confidence of the American people” is needed after the department has been dogged by scandal in recent years. 
“Michael Missal is the tip of the spear to restore much-needed transparency and accountability at the VA Office of Inspector General. His presence will go far toward accomplishing our shared goal of providing the highest quality care to our nation’s veterans,” he added. 
George Opfer, the VA’s previous permanent inspector general, announced in November 2013 that he would retire after serving in the post for eight years. 
Missal, who previously worked as a senior counsel for the Securities and Exchange Commission, was approved by Johnson’s committee in January. 
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee’s ranking member, added the department, and others, have gone without permanent watchdogs for too long. 
“For the last two years, the department has operated without an Inspector General approved by this body. And unfortunately, this is not just a problem at the VA — far too many IG positions have remained vacant for far too long,” he said. 
Richard Griffin served as the acting inspector general after Opfer stepped down. He ultimately retired last year amid increasing criticism from lawmakers that he was too close to the department he was charged with investigating. 
Johnson added Tuesday that the “acting leadership lacked the fundamental tenets of transparency and accountability that all inspectors general should have, and that can literally mean the difference between life and death.”  
Despite bipartisan support for his Missal, senators had been threatening to hold up his nomination as they tried to get commitments from the VA and the watchdog office. 
The VA has been under the congressional spotlight since 2014 over allegations that officials manipulated data on how long veterans were waiting for an appointment. The scandal led to the resignation of then-Secretary Eric Shinseki and the passage of legislation overhauling the Veterans Health Administration. 
Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the top members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a statement that they looked forward to working with Missal. 
“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,” Isakson added.
Tags Eric Shinseki Johnny Isakson Richard Blumenthal Ron Johnson Tom Carper
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