Sen. Den Fischer (R-Neb.) this week added her name to the list of people calling on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign for his “failed leadership” in making sure healthcare for veterans is not delayed.
“In the weeks since news broke of fraud and abuse at Veterans Administration facilities across the country, Secretary Shinseki has failed to demonstrate the strong leadership necessary to aggressively address this systemic failure,” Fischer said. “He has had time to act and he has fallen short.
“While I am grateful for Secretary Shinseki’s past military service, I am disappointed in his current leadership and I believe it is time for him to step down. A new secretary must work to regain credibility with our nation’s veterans and demonstrate basic competence.”
Fischer’s statement was released just hours before President Barack Obama was scheduled to speak from the White House on Wednesday morning, after having met with Shinseki. An announcement that Shinseki will step down would likely be met with relief from both parties, in particular Democrats, who have been hurt by the VA scandal in the run-up to the mid-term elections. But a decision by Obama to defend him will likely fuel more calls for his resignation.
Last week, Shinseki was asked in a Senate hearing on whether anyone has been fired after VA announced that healthcare delays contributed to the death of more than 40 veterans. But Shinseki said he was not aware that anyone had lost their jobs.
Along with Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Fischer proposed new legislation this week that would prohibit the VA from handing out bonuses to senior officials working on healthcare. Her legislation is one of several bills aimed at forcing the VA to exert some level of oversight on itself, after complaints that the VA has ignored years and years of warnings that veterans were having trouble accessing health services.
“In response to the secretary’s failure to act, I have also introduced legislation suspending all bonuses at the VA until these problems are fixed,” Fischer said. “Funding should be focused on fixing the problem, not rewarding employees entrenched in a struggling bureaucracy. I hope the Senate quickly adopts this legislation as a small, but important step forward to restore public trust.”
Fischer also rejected the idea that last week’s announcement that VA Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel would resign was an adequate response to the scandal. Veterans groups and others noted that Petzel was already planning to leave, and said it therefore cannot be seen as punishment for the scandal.
“[T]he resignation of Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel – who was already scheduled to retire – is nothing more than an empty gesture of accountability,” Fischer said.