An array of lawmakers from both parties called on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign following the publication of a new report describing the "systemic" practice of mishandling medical appointments at a Veterans Affairs facility in Phoenix that may have led to the deaths of 23 veterans.
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters the president is waiting for an internal review to pass judgement on Shinseki, a review Carney said is due this week. That could set the stage for Shinseki’s ouster, a prospect that is increasingly likely given the breadth of Democratic lawmakers calling for his head.
The report that sparked the original furor, an internal assessment by the VA’s Inspector General, confirmed a number of allegations plaguing the Phoenix hospital in recent months. It said 1,700 veterans waiting to see a doctor hadn’t actually been scheduled for an appointment or placed on a waiting list, raising questions about how many more remained "forgotten or lost" in the system. It also said that the inspector general has expanded his review to 42 VA facilities, beyond the 26 initially designated. Earlier reports found that the VA manipulated record-keeping that covered up lengthy waiting periods for veterans, some of whom ended up dying in the process.
In a cluster of tweets and press releases hours after the report’s release on Wednesday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Calif.), and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) demanded that Shinseki resign. Bleeding into Thursday, a growing number of Democrats called for his resignation, including Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), John Walsh (D-Mont.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Or.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Mary Landrieu (D-L.A.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"In light of IG report & systemic issues at @DeptVetAffairs, Sec. Shinseki must step down," tweeted Udall.
For his part, Shinseki called the IG findings "reprehensible" and ordered the 1,700 veterans be immediately given care. He has said he does not plan to step down and would instead stay in his post until the problems were fixed.
For many lawmakers, that simply isn’t good enough. McKeon, for instance, praised Shinseki’s long service in the military but said the retired four-star general had lost the confidence of veterans. "General Shinseki has given his life to serving this country and for that, we are in his debt. However, the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs have grown beyond what this nation can bear," the lawmaker said in a statement. "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."
Shinseki, a Vietnam combat veteran, also received praise from Miller, who called him a "good man who has served his country honorably." Still, Miller said Shinseki "failed to get VA’s health care system in order despite repeated and frequent warnings from Congress, the Government Accountability Office and the IG." Miller added that Shinseki "appears completely oblivious to the severity of the health care challenges facing the department."
McCain, who had been reluctant to ask a fellow Vietnam veteran to resign, said on Wednesday that the situation in Phoenix wasn’t an "isolated" incident.
"Every other VA is probably going to have these same influences on them, because they were trying to comply with guidelines that were laid down from the headquarters of VA which they couldn’t meet," he told CNN. "So I haven’t said this before, but I think it’s time for General Shinseki to move on."