Lawmaker: Shinseki 'Failed by Inner Circle'

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki

The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Friday said Eric Shinseki was failed by those with whom he worked closest and relied on for information as the chairman of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

On Friday, President Obama accepted Shinseki's resignation following the release of VA reports confirming "systemic" leadership problems throughout the VA health care system.

Shinseki is "appropriately ... taking the brunt of the blame" for systemic problems at VA, including confirmed reports that hospital officials across the country have manipulated wait times of veterans seeking doctor appointments, said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

But there is plenty of blame to go around, according to Miller.

"Nearly every member of Shinseki's inner circle failed him in a major way. Those who surrounded Shinseki shielded him from crucial facts and hid bad news reports, in the process convincing him that some of the department's most serious, well documented and systemic issues were merely isolated incidents to be ignored," Miller said in a statement shortly after President Obama announced he had accepted Shinseki's resignation.

"Eric Shinseki trusted the VA bureaucracy, and the VA bureaucracy let him down," Miller said.

President Obama told reporters after accepting Shinseki's resignation that the former VA boss is "deeply disappointed" by what he was not being told.

Shinseki, who shortly before offering his resignation at the White House spoke before an annual convention on veteran homelessness, acknowledged that he "was too trusting of some."

"I can't explain the lack of integrity in some of the leaders of our health care facilities," Shinseki said Friday. "This is something I rarely encountered during 38 years in uniform."

VA leadership, including Shinseki, regularly sent Congress reports showing the department was routinely meeting goal in terms of getting veterans in to see a doctor within two weeks of asking for an appointment.

Congress often accepted the VA's assessments, or offered little challenge, until April, when CNN reported that up to 40 veterans may have died waiting to get an appointment with the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Shinseki's initial response, based on recommendations from his own advisers, was that Phoenix was an aberration, an isolated case, and that's what he told the public and Congress.

But a VA Inspector General interim report confirmed that Phoenix officials were manipulating appointment schedules, and other facilities across the country were doing the same.

Critics and supporters of Shinseki -- on Capitol Hill and among veterans' organizations -- say they're ready to work with his successor to resolve problems at the VA. As of now, Sloan Gibson, named deputy VA secretary in February, has been named acting secretary.

Miller is warning that the new VA leadership will not enjoy a honeymoon period.

"VA's problems are deadly serious, and whomever the next secretary may be, they will receive no grace period from America's veterans, American taxpayers and Congress," he said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he was saddened by Shinseki's departure.

But Sanders said he looks forward to working with the next VA secretary to help transform the culture of the VA, "establish accountability and punish those responsible for the reprehensible manipulation of wait times."

Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander William Thien said the new secretary must hold accountable those responsible for the appointment gaming and restore confidence in the VA.

Thien also said Congress has a responsibility to put aside political agendas -- a recognition that some lawmakers and political groups have begun campaigning on the VA scandal.

"The VFW will never tolerate politics as usual when it comes to the proper care and treatment of our nation's heroes," Thien said.

American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said Shinseki's resignation "is not the solution, but it is a beginning." The Legion is the only veterans' service organization to call for Shinseki's removal.

It also called for the resignations of Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey and Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel. There is no word yet on Hickey, but Petzel resigned earlier this month following a Senate hearing where it was clear he knew more about the ongoing wait times issue than did Shinseki.

But Petzel had already put in for retirement and his successor had been nominated, so his removal was widely viewed as an attempt to mollify VA critics.

Dellinger said the solution "was never just about a few of the top leaders. The solution is to weed out the incompetence and corruption within the [Veterans Health Administration] and the [Veterans Benefits Administration] so the dedicated employees can continue to perform admirably on behalf of our nation's veterans."

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@monster.com.

Show Full Article