The ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is standing by the tough words he issued before Memorial Day saying leaders of several veterans groups should have demanded Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki's resignation.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, said in his letter that most of the veterans service organization leaders who testified before his committee on May 15 appear "more interested in their own livelihoods and Washington connections than they are to the needs of their own members "
Several veterans groups testified on May 15 as Congress continues to examine allegations that up to 40 veterans died waiting to see a doctor at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. The American Legion has demanded Shinseki step down, a position not taken by other veterans service organization.
Three veterans groups quickly issued letters of their own, blasting the GOP senator for what they considered insulting and hypocritical attacks.
"Your attitude and actions reflect great discredit upon the United States Senate and every member of Congress should be embarrassed by your ‘open' letter," Paralyzed Veterans of America said in its own open letter to Burr. "Only a politician would be so bold as to believe he or she knows better what veterans want and need than actual veterans themselves. You clearly represent the worst of politics in this country."
The Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans also released public statements.
The VFW said its Washington staff has 47 combat deployments, collectively, including Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, with some using VA healthcare for the wounds and injuries they sustained in the line of duty. The group also reminded Burr that it has been warning him and his colleagues for years about the crisis in wait times, only to see the warnings fall "on deaf ears."
The DAV, in its statement, said Burr "shows no interest in pursuing serious policy solutions, preferring instead to launch cheap political attacks on the integrity of leaders of veterans organizations who do not agree with him, all of whom served honorably to defend this nation and then devoted all or most of their lives to serving their fellow veterans."
Burr is not backing off his criticism, however, and said the flak he has received from the VFW, PVA and DAV proves his point.
"Their national leadership are far more outraged by my words than they have been about the VA scandal or Secretary Shinseki's mismanagement of the agency," Burr said in a statement released by his office. "How many Inspector General, Special Counsel, GAO, and Medical Investigator reports does it take to spur outrage and prompt action? Their position is even harder to understand in light of the statements made by the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Concerned Veterans for America, and others."
Burr, in his May 23 letter, heaped a great deal of praise on the Legion, which has called for Shinseki's resignation.
The Legion told Military.com on Tuesday it would not comment on the controversy between Burr and veterans organizations. IAVA has not weighed in on the letters exchange.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.