Senator, Veterans Organizations Call on VA Secretary to Step Down
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called on the Senate floor this morning for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign because of systemic dysfunction in his department.
“Veterans are waiting for action and yet the VA continues to operate in the same old bureaucratic fashion, settling for mediocrity and continued disservice to our nation’s heroes. There’s a difference in wanting change and leading it to happen," Moran said.
"Today I am demanding accountability and true transformation within the VA system in its culture from top to bottom and all across the country. Secretary Shinseki is seemingly unwilling or unable to do so and change must be made at the top," the senator continued. "I ask the Secretary to submit his resignation and I ask President Obama to accept that resignation. We must never forget that our nation has responsibility to its veterans… We need a department of Veterans Affairs worthy of your sacrifice.”
The American Legion also called for Shinseki to step down in the wake of the waitlist scandal, but the administration official has a backer for now at the head of the Veterans' Affairs Committee.
"It's not something we do lightly. But we do so today because it is our responsibility as advocate for the men and women who have worn this nation's uniform," said Daniel M. Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, in the call for Shinseki to resign.
Reports recently surfaced that at least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, and many of those who lost their lives were put on a “secret” waiting list.
The chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is under pressure from senators on both sides of the aisle to hold immediate hearings on the deaths, but said he wants to wait for the results of an inspector general’s report.
On Monday evening, Sanders said in a statement that the American Legion call for Shinseki to resign was premature as well.
“Serious allegations have been made regarding waiting lists at the Phoenix VA. Secretary Shinseki has done the right thing by calling for an immediate investigation of those allegations by the independent Office of Inspector General. I have promised to hold hearings on this issue as soon as we have the facts," Sanders said. "While it might be temporarily satisfying to call for firing someone, it doesn’t get us any closer to the truth or solve problems that may exist."
“In the midst of all this, I know that there are hundreds of thousands of VA employees in Vermont and throughout this country who are doing an excellent job taking care of the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend this country," he added.
Concerned Veterans for America said it backs the American Legion, and also backs a bill from House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who has not called for Shinseki's resignation.
“As the American Legion knows, it is important to note that firing Shinseki will not solve VA’s systemic problems. What the VA really needs is oversight and accountability. The next VA secretary must be given the tools to enforce accountability—which is why CVA, along with the American Legion, supports the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014 (HR4031/S2013)," said CVA CEO Pete Hegseth in a statement.
“Firing Shinseki, without passing this critical—and bipartisan—legislation, will be a hollow victory for veterans. Accountability needs to start at the top, but must also be infused in all aspects of VA. We need to replace Shinseki with a VA secretary who is fully empowered to change the culture at VA and implement long-overdue reforms.”
At a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing last week on overmedication, VA Under Secretary of Health Dr. Robert Petzel was asked about the waitlist scandal. Despite cautioning that there be no “rush to judgment,” Petzel stated that an initial review found “no evidence of a secret list” and “no patients who have died because they have been on a waitlist.”
"At a time when the VA Inspector General has yet to finish its investigation, I believe his comments were premature and unfortunate. I urge VA officials to refrain from making statements that may be construed as prejudicial to existing investigations, including conflating purported findings from a preliminary review by a VA administrative team with those of ongoing independent investigations," Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) wrote in a letter to Shinseki yesterday.