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House Vets Chair Blasts VA for 'Leadership Void'

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WASHINGTON -- The head of the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday angrily blasted Department of Veterans Affairs officials for multiple failures related to a pair of costly 2011 training conferences.

"It is apparent we have a leadership void at VA," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.. "Without strong leadership at VA, I am concerned that some of the best ideas we put forth will never realize their full potential."

On Monday, the VA Inspector General's office detailed hundreds of thousands in wasted taxpayers funds and 11 VA employees who accepted gifts at the conferences in violation of federal law. A day earlier, in reaction to the pending report, VA Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration John Sepulveda resigned from his post.

Miller, speaking at a Capitol Hill hearing with the American Legion officials, called the findings disappointing, but called the VA's response even more disheartening.

"We are hearing the same thing we always hear from VA: ‘We will change, we have put safeguards in place, we don't condone this behavior.' We've heard this tune before, but rarely do we see results or any substantive change," he said.

"VA leadership must always hold itself accountable for providing veterans the best care and services possible and never gamble with our veterans, especially for some employees to have fun at a conference."

Earlier this week, committee ranking member Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., called the scandal "yet again a clear lack of accountability from VA senior leadership and the needless waste of taxpayer dollars" and requested a detailed plan on how department leaders plan to implement safeguards before the end of 2012.

"This VA culture has gone on too long, from administration to administration, and it simply must stop," he said.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced this week that he will appoint a panel of senior officials to review the actions of all employees involved with the conference planning and recommend appropriate administrative action against them.

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