Florida Republicans Want Obama to Reform VA Now Eric Shinseki's Gone
Around the State
This week, Florida Republicans continued to call on the Obama administration to make major reforms to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, even after Eric Shinseki resigned his post as VA secretary last week after a critical inspector general’s report on VA medical facilities.
Gov. Rick Scott joined five other Republican governors -- Sam Brownback of Kansas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Paul LePage of Maine, Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania and Rick Perry of Texas -- in sending a letter on Wednesday to President Barack Obama, urging him to reform the VA department which has been under fire in recent weeks after reports emerged across the nation of altered waiting lists at VA medical facilities.
“As governors who have millions of veterans living in our states, we are deeply troubled and outraged by the significant negligence and systemic delays in patient care throughout the Veterans Affairs health system,” the governors wrote. “While we believe that your decision to accept the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki was appropriate, this change is only the beginning of many needed reforms to protect and care for our nation’s veterans.
“The dedication, service and sacrifice these individuals make on a daily basis ensures the safety and freedoms we, as Americans, enjoy and cherish,” they continued. “We owe these servicemen and women our sincere gratitude and appreciation, and we must demand more from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to honor the sacrifices of our American veterans.
“States have taken the obligation to care for these men and women very seriously," the governors added. “Reports from states around the country of wait times in a system manipulated by VA leaders to hide the growing problems are not only inexcusable, they demand your immediate and full attention. Serious reform on behalf of our veterans will require much more than a change in management. Mr. President, you have the ability and power to right this wrong and put the health and welfare of our country’s veterans first. We stand ready and willing to assist in this most important effort to help our veterans get the quality and timely medical care they deserve.”
This week, the White House said a “top priority” was to find a replacement for Shinseki. Currently Sloan Gibson, who had been Shinseki’s deputy, is serving as acting secretary while White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors is also still focused on VA affairs.
“When it comes to the secretary of Veterans Affairs, it is a top priority to find a successor, and I can't predict an exact timeline right now, but we’re going to look diligently for a new VA secretary,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney this week. “And we hope to confirm that successor and fill that post as soon as possible.
“The fact is, and we discussed this last week, Sloan Gibson as the acting secretary has significant background to take on this effort and to fill an important role as we search for a new secretary. And we look forward to that,” Carney added. “When it comes to the reviews that are underway, they continue -- both Rob Nabors’ view, and the one initiative by Sec. Shinseki, for which the initial report was provided to the president last week. And of course, there is an independent inspector general investigation that's ongoing.”
The media pressed Carney on whether reforms would begin under Gibson’s watch despite his interim status.
“The process began prior to Sec. Shinseki offering his resignation,” Carney replied. “He himself took steps aimed at accountability, ones that became apparent how systemic the problem was regarding falsified reports on wait times, or misrepresentation of wait times. And Rob Nabors began a broader review of VA operations and VHA operations that is ongoing, and he will have a full report this month for the president and the leadership at VA.”
But Republicans aren’t backing down. U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, sent Gibson a request asking the department to comply with information requests the committee had sent Shinseki.
“Today’s VA is a case study in how to stonewall the press, the public and Congress,” Miller said on Tuesday. “And as we found out last week, oftentimes officials from across the department have routinely sought to hide information about some of VA’s most pressing problems from the department’s own senior leaders. I am hoping Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson will put an immediate stop to these disturbing trends. To that end, I have asked Sec. Gibson to provide our committee with any and all remaining documents responsive to our May 8 subpoena no later than June 9, 2014. Right now, Sec. Gibson has a chance to begin to repair the reputation of a department that has gained notoriety for its secrecy and duplicity with the public and indifference to the constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities of Congress. I am hoping he makes the most of this chance.”
In the meantime, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to pass a bill he is sponsoring giving the VA secretary more power to fire incompetent employees. Miller was the sponsor of the House version which easily passed last month.
“As the majority leader of the United States Senate, you and you alone control what legislation is brought before the Senate for a vote. In this important role, you can make a vital difference in the reforms that are needed to improve the quality of care our nation’s heroes receive,” Rubio wrote Reid on Tuesday. “As you know, the House of Representatives recently passed the common-sense and bipartisan S. 2013 -- The VA Management and Accountability Act of 2014 -- with the support of 165 Democrats.”
Rubio noted the bill had bipartisan support in the Senate, including the backing of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
“That legislation is now before the Senate for consideration and is sponsored by 10 Senate Democrats, including the senators from Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia,” Rubio wrote. “Their backing means there is currently a strong bipartisan support for this legislation which would bring accountability to VA and empower the leadership therein to make the same hiring and firing decisions you enjoy as a United States senator with your own staff.
“This legislation alone will not solve all the problems at the VA -- problems which, to be fair, existed before President Obama took office. But this legislation will take an important step forward in helping reform this broken government institution,” Rubio added. “It might also help restore some faith in the Senate’s ability to achieve even incremental reform to a government that too many Americans believe is no longer capable of even the most basic functions.”
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.