Florida Congressmen Demand VA Reforms, Eric Shinseki's Resignation

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: May 21, 2014 3:55 AM
Ron DeSantis, Barack Obama, Vern Buchanan

Ron DeSantis, Barack Obama, Vern Buchanan

Even as the White House continues to defend Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Republicans from Florida push for reforms to VA while calls for his resignation continue to grow.

With the Obama administration playing defense after reports emerged about VA medical centers using secret waiting lists, including in Phoenix where 40 veterans died as they waited for treatment, Republicans in Congress continue to demand answers.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., called for Congress to pass the “Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act” which he is co-sponsoring. The bill is being backed by U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The House is expected to pass the bill on Wednesday, which will make it easier for the VA secretary to demote poorly performing officials.

"The treatment of our veterans by the VA is an ongoing national disgrace,” DeSantis said on Tuesday. “I am pleased that the House is taking definitive action to institute accountability in the VA. If senior officials are not adequately performing their jobs, and letting our veterans down in the process, then they need to be removed from their positions. Those who have put their lives on the line in defense of our freedoms deserve better than this.”

With reports emerging last week that the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville is using a secret waiting list impacting almost 220 veterans, Gov. Rick Scott called for the state Agency for Health Care Administration (HCA) to inspect the facility. The HCA attempted to do that on Monday and was denied.

“Yesterday, my staff visited the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center and was again denied access to review the VA hospital system’s processes,” said HCA Secretary Liz Dudek on Tuesday. “The VA has repeatedly denied the agency access to review processes and procedures, and has yet to acknowledge receipt of the agency’s Freedom of Information Act request that was filed 20 days ago. I am shocked at the VA’s lack of urgency and expected the VA to take this issue seriously given the repeated calls for action and transparency. It is time for the VA to stop hiding behind bureaucratic rhetoric and take the necessary steps to ensure our brave veterans receive the quality health care they deserve in a reasonable time frame.”

In the meantime, congressmen are increasingly demanding Shinseki resign. U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., called for Shinseki to resign on Friday. This week, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., weighed in, calling for Shinseki to go.

“Eric Shinseki served our nation with distinction -- but new leadership is necessary to address the VA's atrocious treatment of our veterans,” Buchanan insisted on Monday.

In the meantime, the White House continues to have Shinseki’s back even as Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors takes a larger role in clearing up the mess at VA. “He has been dispatched to the VA at the secretary’s request,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the media on Tuesday about Nabors. Carney added Nabors met with veterans groups on Tuesday and will be heading to Phoenix on Wednesday.

Carney said President Barack Obama was “not at all” happy about recent reports but did not answer how long the president knew about the false waiting lists. But Carney insisted on Monday that Obama was comfortable leaving the matters in Shinseki’s hands.

“It is absolutely the case that the president strongly supports Secretary Shinseki’s request to the IG to investigate the allegations that have emerged around initially the Phoenix office and have spread elsewhere, because he insists that we do everything we can to ensure that our veterans are getting the care that they deserve and that they’re getting it in a timely fashion,” Carney said.

Asked on Monday if Shinseki’s days are numbered, Carney praised the secretary’s record.  

“Our position on this is that Sec. Shinseki has presided over a VA that has significantly increased the access that veterans have to disability claims, significantly increased the number of veterans who are provided benefits, including health benefits, and has committed himself from the moment he was sworn into office to addressing the huge challenges that our growing population of veterans and the services that they need create for this country,” Carney said. “He has aggressively implemented policies that reflect the president’s high priority  -- the high priority the president associates with providing benefits to our veterans -- and that is reflected in the way that is often the case, here in Washington, with the fact that the president has sought every year significant increases in the VA budget when he has submitted his budgets. And that focus will continue.

“What the president wants is for the review and the investigation to be completed and for action to be taken to address any problems that are identified by the review and the investigation, and for individuals to be held accountable if that is appropriate,” Carney added. “But before we make that determination we need to see what the results of the investigation and the review are.”

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