But Shinseki shows no signs of leaving, even after reading the report which focused on VA centers in Phoenix which found a backlog of veterans on the wait list. National media reports emerged in recent weeks of 40 veterans dying as they waited for VA medical care in Phoenix and the report found a backlog of 1,700 veterans currently waiting for care in that area.
I have reviewed the interim report, and the findings are reprehensible to me, to this department, and to veterans, Shinseki said on Wednesday. I am directing that the Phoenix VA Health Care System (VAHCS) immediately triage each of the 1,700 veterans identified by the OIG to bring them timely care. I have already placed the Phoenix VAHCS leadership on administrative leave, and have directed an independent site team to assess scheduling and administrative practices at the Phoenix VAHCS. This team began their work in April, and we are already taking action on multiple recommendations from this report.
We will aggressively and fully implement the remaining OIG recommendations to ensure that we contact every single veteran identified by the OIG, Shinseki added. I have directed the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to complete a nationwide access review to ensure a full understanding of VAs policy and continued integrity in managing patient access to care. Further, we are accelerating access to care throughout our system and in communities where veterans reside. It is important to allow OIGs independent and objective review to proceed until completion. OIG has requested that VA take no additional personnel actions in Phoenix until their review is complete.
But thats not enough for a prominent Republican who is generating buzz as a presidential candidate in 2016. On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Shinseki needs to resign and pushed a legislative alternative to ensure the departments leadership wont have a repeat performance. Rubio called for the Senate to pass his bill which would make it easier for the VA secretary to fire or demote problem employees. The House passed a version of the bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., earlier in the month.
The inspector generals report not only confirmed our worst fears about rampant mismanagement and institutional neglect at the VA, it also revealed the problem is even worse than we thought, Rubio said. In light of the report, it is clear now that Sec. Shinseki should tender his resignation to the president, and President Obama should accept it. But Sec. Shinseki should not shoulder the blame alone. Current law prohibits Sec. Shinseki and whoever might succeed him from firing the very people that the inspector general found responsible for the daily mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior that contributed to the shameful conditions throughout the VA system.
Fifty senators, including five Democrats, have now signaled their support for common-sense legislation that the Senate could pass and send to the president as early as next week, Rubio added. This is the same legislation that passed the House 390-33, with 162 Democrats voting in favor. This legislation would bring basic accountability to the VA and ensure the people responsible for the gross negligence and mistreatment of our nations heroes are punished. I hope more Senate Democrats will join Republicans in sponsoring this measure and insist that Democratic leadership drop their obstruction to this common-sense legislation.
Democrats, including those in competitive election contests in November, are also increasingly calling for Shinseki to go. U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and U.S. Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., all of whom are top Republican targets in November, are demanding Shinsekis resignation. So is U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who is farther down the Republican target list.
In the Florida delegation, Democrats have generally avoided calling for Shinsekis head and U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., who is one of the top members of her party on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has defended the secretary. Still, there are some members who are backing Millers and Rubios bill. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is a co-sponsor of Rubios bill and has said heads should roll at the VA department.
U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., who is expected to face stiff competition from the Republicans this year, waded into the issue last week and called for new life at VA. Garcia voted to back Millers bill in the House.
Sec. Shinseki has served this nation admirably throughout his entire career, Garcia said. He is a true national hero with a distinguished military record and an unquestionable commitment to serving our nations veterans. However, the time has come to breathe new life into the VA.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.