Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) called on President Obama to appoint a special investigator to probe the treatment of wait-listed veterans at the VA.
Reports surfaced last week 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.), said Friday he wants to wait for the results of an inspector general’s report before investigating the death, despite calls from fellow senators to hold hearings right away.
“My strong conviction is that we owe a moral obligation — not just a legal obligation — to those veterans to keep our commitments to them once they separate from military service. And I’m sorry to say that the Department of Veterans Affairs has repeatedly and outrageously failed to uphold its own commitment to America’s armed forces and our veterans,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor today.
“This should be a call to action on the part of the United States Senate and the federal government to live up to its obligations and its commitment to our nation’s veterans,” he continued.
“Serving America’s veterans is one of the most important responsibilities the federal government has. The VA’s failure to meet its responsibility is an ongoing scandal, one that I will continue drawing attention to until our veterans get the support they so rightfully deserve.”
On Monday, President Obama said he’d told Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to look into the matter.
“That is consistent with what has been my rock-solid commitment to make sure that our veterans are cared for. I believe that if somebody has served our nation then they have to get the benefits and services that they have earned,” he said at a press conference in the Philippines. “And my budgets have consistently reflected that. That’s why we’ve resourced the Veterans Affairs office more in terms of increases than any other department or agency in my government.”
Yesterday, Arizona GOP Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake sent a letter requesting a briefing and regular updates on the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General’s ongoing investigation.
“We are certain we all agree it is important to conduct an honest and objective inquiry into these allegations. Given their stark and disturbing nature and the need to ensure the prevention of any future consequences, it is our hope that this investigation and the subsequent oversight by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will occur in a timely fashion,” the senators wrote.
Arizona Reps. Matt Salmon (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D) offered an amendment to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2015 that would give $1 million additional funding to the OIG to provide oversight and accountability at the Veterans Administration.
Sinema called the reports of wait-list deaths “immoral, unconscionable, irresponsible and un-American.”
“We need answers in Phoenix but this is not an isolated incident. Stories of health complications and deaths because of wait times have surfaced in other places around the country including South Carolina and Texas,” she said. “That this is happening to the good people who have defended our flag and our freedoms is beyond the pale.”