A growing number top-ranking lawmakers have joined with at least two veterans advocacy groups in calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki over the agency’s alleged mistreatment of former U.S. service members.
"[I]f true, these reports demonstrate a serious problem within the VA," Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), who sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Wednesday. "The brave Americans who served our country did not wait months or years to answer the call to protect our freedom."
"They deserve the best care that we can give them in a timely manner. Unfortunately, under current leadership in the VA, that seems impossible," he added, urging the Oversight committee to investigate the matter. "If Secretary Shinseki can’t get this done, President Obama needs to find somebody who can."
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, before the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the effects the government shutdown is having on benefits and services to veterans. (AP)
Farenthold is joined by lawmakers in the senate.
“With all the problems the VA has had over the last several years, it’s time for new leadership,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the senior Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told Politico this week. “I have no hope you can accomplish any changes with the current regime.”
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) agreed.
“We need a point person, appointed by the White House to get to the bottom of this, and we need the majority leader to hold emergency committee meetings to get to the bottom of this and to stop it, as soon as possible,” Cornyn said on the floor of the Senate Tuesday.
“But I agree with the American Legion that General Shinseki’s time as secretary of Veterans Affairs has come to an end, and he needs to step down,” he added. “The president needs to find a new leader to lead this organization out of the wilderness, and back to providing the service our veterans deserve.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that “a change in leadership might be a step in the right direction.”
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), another member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, also called for Shinseki’s resignation Tuesday, saying Congress will look closely at allegations of corruption and abuse by the VA.
“There is a difference in wanting change and leading it to happen,” Moran said. “I’m demanding accountability and true transformation in the VA system and its culture from top to bottom and all across the country. Secretary Shinseki seemingly is unwilling or unable to do so, and change must be made at the top.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has not ruled out the VA chief's resignation, but has urged his colleagues to wait on the results of an inspector general’s investigation of the matter.
“Serious allegations have been made regarding waiting lists at the Phoenix VA. Secretary Shinseki has done the right thing by calling for an immediate investigation of those allegations by the independent Office of Inspector General. I have promised to hold hearings on this issue as soon as we have the facts,” Sanders said. “While it might be temporarily satisfying to call for firing someone, it doesn’t get us any closer to the truth or solve problems that may exist.”
“In the midst of all this, I know that there are hundreds of thousands of VA employees in Vermont and throughout this country who are doing an excellent job taking care of the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend this country,” he added.
The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans advocacy group, called on Shinseki to resign Monday following reports that several veterans have died while waiting for medical attention from VA’s in both Phoenix and Fort Collins, Colorado.
“As national commander of the nation’s largest veterans service organization, it is with great sadness that I call for the resignations of Secretary Shinseki, Under Secretary of Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey,” American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger said.
The American Legion was joined Monday by Concerned Veterans for America in calling for the VA chief to step down.
Several VAs have also reportedly falsified data regarding long wait times.
Shinseki has resisted calls for his resignation, the White House and the VA offering their support.
“Secretary Shinseki has dedicated his life to his fellow veterans, and nobody is more committed to completing the work that lies ahead,” a VA spokesman told the Washington Examiner. “As the secretary says, providing veterans the quality care and benefits they have earned through their service is our only mission at VA.”
Meanwhile, a White House spokesman told TheBlaze on Tuesday that it stands with the VA secretary.
“The president remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the department and to take appropriate action based on the IG’s findings,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in an email.
“As the president said last week, we take the allegations around the Phoenix situation very seriously,” Inouye said. “That’s why he immediately directed Secretary Shinseki to investigate, and Secretary Shinseki has also invited the independent Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General to conduct a comprehensive review. We must ensure that our nation’s veterans get the benefits and services that they deserve and have earned.”
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