A new group of lawmakers are calling for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki following the release of a VA report that confirmed the existence of a secret waiting list at the Phoenix, Arizona VA hospital.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the findings in the interim report show that the VA’s problems are so great that only new leadership will help.
McCain said the IG report stands in sharp contradiction to assurances he received on Tuesday from Shinseki that the Phoenix VA Medical Center managers consistently applied the VA’s national standard policy for its electronic waiting list.
“It is alarming that Secretary Shinseki either wasn’t aware of these systemic problems, or wasn’t forthcoming in his communications with Congress about them. Either way, it is clear to me that new leadership is needed at the VA,” McCain said.
“For these reasons, I believe that now is the time for Secretary Shinseki – a career soldier, a Vietnam combat veteran and a man whose career of service I have long admired – to step down from his post,” he said.
McCain also said the Department of Justice should open a criminal investigation into the allegations that up to 40 veterans on a secret patient waiting list died before getting to see a doctor.
The VA’s Office of the Inspector General said it is continuing its investigation into the Phoenix allegations, but Acting IG Richard Griffin, in the interim report just released, made no connection between the lists and any veteran deaths.
He did say the situation at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix interfered with veterans access to timely health care.
McKeon issued his call for Shinseki’s resignation shortly after Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, did the same.
“I believe America’s veterans would be best served with a fresh set of eyes on the VA system. Only new innovations and aggressive reform can get the problems at the VA under control,” he said. "It would be best if General Shinseki stepped down as secretary, both as an example for other VA leaders and to lay the groundwork for new leadership to meet with success"
Miller said Shinseki is not up to the job of holding accountable the people who have failed tens of thousands of veterans.
“VA needs a leader who will take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability,” he said.
Shinseki, a retired Army four-star, said he will stay on until his appointment ends, or until President Obama tells him it’s time to go. So far Obama has backed Shinseki.
Shinseki, who on Wednesday called Griffin’s findings “reprehensible to me, to this Department, and to veterans,” immediately began acting on the recommendations in the report.
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and its former chairwoman, Patty Murray, D-Wash., also released statements on the IG interim report.
The two acknowledged the seriousness of the reports findings and demanded action, but neither called for Shinseki to leave his post. Thus far only Republican lawmakers have pushed for a resignation, but Murray’s statement hinted that could change.
Murray, pointing to longstanding claims that VA managers gamed the system, said Shinseki should act quickly and decisively.
“The VA needs to stop rewarding bad behavior and create a real system of accountability and transparency,” Murray said. “It needs to put an end to what appears to be a pervasive culture of lying, cheating, and mismanagement. And it needs to act right away -- without waiting for more reports to come out detailing even more system-wide failures.”
Murray said she told Shinseki that VA is at a point where “good intentions are no longer good enough.”
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.