Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) somewhat bowed to pressure to investigate waitlist deaths at the VA sooner rather than later, calling a hearing a week from now featuring VA Secretary Eric Shinseki as the star witness.
“The State of VA Health Care” hearing announcement comes after Sanders said he would wait for the results of an inspector general’s investigation before probing reports of at least 40 deaths of veterans on a secret waiting list at the Phoenix VA alone.
“I take these allegations very seriously,” Sanders said. “I expect the inspector general will conduct the investigation thoroughly and provide this committee with an objective analysis of these allegations.”
Sanders said the hearing, though, would focus on the broader performance of the VA system charged with providing 6.2 million veterans with care. “In fact,” he said, “some 200,000 veterans get care every single day and independent studies consistently show that VA provides, in general, excellent care to our veterans.”
His statement touted how VA hospitals are “among the best in the nation.”
“Nonetheless,” Sanders said, “in a system as large and bureaucratic as the VA, it is imperative that we uncover the problems that exist in the system and address them boldly. The veterans of our country deserve the best-quality care that we can provide and I intend to do my best to make sure that happens.”
Shinseki spoke to media for the first time since the scandal broke today, telling CBS “all of this makes me angry.”
“I mean, whenever we have allegations like this, even until they’re founded, I didn’t come here to watch things happen this way. I came here to make things better,” he said.
“I just want veterans to know that health care is something they earned and deserve. We’re going to deliver it. It is high quality, and I want them to believe that when they walk into our facilities, they’re safe.”
The American Legion, Concerned Veterans for America, and a growing number of lawmakers have called on Shinseki to resign, including one congressman in a state where revelations similar to Phoenix have been uncovered.
“It is appalling that VA staff in Fort Collins falsified records to make it appear that patients were being seen in a timely fashion, when in fact, many have been waiting months for an appointment,” Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said. “I called for an investigation earlier this week; however, additional information has revealed a pattern of improper behavior making it apparent that Secretary Shinseki is no longer able to properly lead the VA. Secretary Shinseki should resign from his position before more damage is done.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), though, said at a news conference today he’s “not ready to join the chorus of people calling for him to step down.”
“The problems at the VA are systemic. It’s the backlog. It’s the preventable deaths that have occurred within their system,” Boehner said. “There is a systemic management issue throughout the VA that needs to be addressed. And I don’t believe that just changing someone at the top is going to actually get to the solutions that many of us are looking for.”
“If they come up with wrongdoing, then we need to hold the proper people accountable. And if they don’t come up with wrong doing then why are we criticizing a man who’s doing the best job he can… a decorated war hero and somebody who, quite frankly, has been pounded before by Congress, and I think it’s unfair,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told MSNBC.
When NBC asked Shinseki if he intended to step down, he replied, “I would say I serve at the pleasure of the president.”