The chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is trying to keep a hearing with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki tomorrow geared toward the general health of the Veterans Affairs Administration, but even Democrats are vowing to grill Shinseki on the growing waitlist scandal.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been under intense pressure to call a hearing to delve into disturbing reports that veterans were put on secret waiting lists to conceal that their request to see a doctor was extensively delayed, and that dozens died while on that waiting list.
Instead, he called a hearing on “The State of VA Health Care” and stressed what a good job the VA does.
“While surveys suggest that patient satisfaction is high among the 6.5 million veterans who get care each year from the VA and while the American Customer Satisfaction Index said VA patients rank their care among the best in the nation, it is clear to me that there are problems within the VA and that the VA has got to do better,” Sanders said in a statement today.
“This committee will do everything it can to review the serious allegations regarding the Phoenix VA and other facilities, but we will not rush to judgment,” he added. “As soon as the inspector general completes its independent investigation in Phoenix, we will hold a hearing or series of hearings regarding what happened there.”
But Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), past chairwoman of the committee, won’t wait for that hearing.
Murray’s office said the senator “will question Secretary Shinseki on recent allegations that patients died while waiting for treatment at VA hospitals, and ask him what immediate changes will be made to finally restore long-overdue accountability, transparency, and confidence in the VA system.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney continued to defend Shinseki today.
“The stress on the system that two additional wars, long wars caused is something that the secretary and the president recognize very keenly. And that’s why the president has insisted on increased funding for the VA throughout his time in office, even as we deal with the need for maintaining tight budgets as a general matter,” Carney said. “It’s why we’ve enrolled at the VA under Secretary Shinseki’s leadership 2 million veterans in high-quality VA healthcare, reducing veteran’s homelessness by 24 percent, providing post-9/11 G.I. bill educational benefits to more than 1 million students and decreasing the disability claims backlog by 50 percent.”
“…The secretary has begun an investigation and made clear to the independent inspector general at VA that he would like to see a comprehensive review conducted of the situation in Phoenix.”
But Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kanas), a member of the committee who has called on Shinseki to resign, stressed that such an internal review should be called into question.
“The Inspector General has reported 18 times since January of 2013 in regard to quality care issues, in regard to allegations of impropriety. The reality is nothing’s been done,” Moran told Fox. “…The department is now suggesting that they’re going to do a survey across the country in two weeks of a small number of facilities. There are 1,700 facilities across the country. Two weeks seems to me that they’re simply doing damage control. We need to have a presidential commission take a look at this because [the VA] is not listening to the investigations that have already been done.”
Shinseki’s internal review is being conducted by 220 VA employees who are reportedly visiting 153 medical facilities and a few large Community Based Outpatient Clinics — less than 10 percent of the 1,700 VA “points of care” in the nation.
“This is not about one more hearing. But it really is about taking the facts that we already have, the circumstances that we know our veterans and their families have faced with the VA,” Moran continued. “Where would you think…we would have the most timely and the highest quality of healthcare for any particular set of individuals? You would think it would be the veterans of our country, the military men and women who sacrificed for our nation. You want to see the absolute best in care.”
“And at best, we see mediocrity, looking the other way. No real sense that anybody’s in charge trying to make a change. So what we don’t need is just further delays, further investigations. Let’s take some action.”