American Legion calls for removal of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki
WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest veterans group called Monday for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and two top department administrators over alleged issues with quality of care and cover-ups at some VA medical centers.
The American Legion said it will formally ask President Barack Obama to remove Shinseki from office, along with Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel and Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey.
The White House indicated Monday that Obama will stand behind Shinseki, noting that the department’s inspector general is investigating the allegations.
“The president remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the department and to take appropriate action based on the IG’s findings,” the White House said in a statement.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars also disagreed with the American Legion’s position, calling for strong action from Shinseki and greater congressional oversight rather than resignations.
“It is paramount that Secretary Shinseki get publicly in front of this immediately to address the valid concerns of veterans and their families, and to reestablish the credibility of the entire VA health and benefits systems, and that of his own office,” VFW National Commander William Thien said in a statement.
Shinseki, a former Army general and Vietnam veteran with two Purple Hearts, has headed VA since January 2009.
“His patriotism and sacrifice for this nation are above reproach,” said American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger. “However, his record as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs tells a different story. It’s a story of poor oversight and failed leadership.”
VA spokesman Drew Brookie defended Shinseki’s record, saying the department has enrolled 2 million former troops in the VA health-care system, reduced its long-standing disability claims by 44 percent and lowered homelessness among veterans by 24 percent during his tenure.
“Secretary Shinseki has dedicated his life to his fellow veterans, and nobody is more committed to completing the work that lies ahead,” Brookie said.
Demands for new leadership are nothing new to VA. Last year, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Concerned Veterans for America called for Shinseki to resign, and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said the agency should fire Hickey.
The American Legion’s action Monday followed reports of preventable deaths and attempts to cover up treatment delays at VA health clinics. At least two whistleblowers have said that a Phoenix VA hospital had a “secret waiting list” to hide delays, possibly affecting dozens of patients who died while waiting for care.
Similarly, a new report from VA’s Office of the Medical Inspector said a department clinic in Fort Collins, Colo., falsified appointment records to give the impression that staff doctors had seen patients within the agency’s goal of 14 days. USA Today first reported the findings Sunday.
VA responded to the Phoenix allegations by placing three of its executives on administrative leave “until further notice.” The department’s inspector general has also launched an investigation, and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has promised a congressional hearing on the matter once the review is complete.
“We believe it is important to allow an independent, objective review to proceed,” Shinseki said in a statement last week. “These allegations, if true, are absolutely unacceptable, and if the Inspector General’s investigation substantiates these claims, swift and appropriate action will be taken.”
Sanders indicated Monday that he does not support removing Shinseki from office.
“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,” he said in a statement.
The House last week passed legislation that would ban bonuses for senior VA executives in response to the department’s recent troubles. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who sponsored the measure, said it is necessary because of “systematic leadership failures.”
VA pushed back against the proposed bonus restrictions, saying that the department must “remain competitive to recruit and retain the best people” to ensure quality service.
Obama last week addressed the Phoenix allegations while touring the Philippines, saying his administration has continuously demonstrated its commitment to former troops by calling for more VA funding.
The White House’s 2015 budget proposal asks Congress to allocate $56 billion for veteran medical care, an increase of nearly 3 percent compared with the enacted level of funding for those programs in 2014.