White House Defends VA Medical Care as Florida GOP Leaders Press the Issue
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After news emerged that three officials were suspended from the Malcolm Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville due to a secret waiting list of almost 220 patients waiting for treatment, Republicans from Florida turned up the heat on the Obama administration. Similar stories on other VA medical centers using secret waiting lists have emerged across the nation, including in Phoenix where 40 veterans died as they waited for treatment.
Gov. Rick Scott renewed his call for an independent investigation and promised to have the state Agency for Health Care Administration look into the matter.
“Earlier this week, I called for an independent, thorough analysis and I renew that call today,” Scott added. “The VA has repeatedly denied Florida’s experienced hospital inspectors, and the Freedom of Information Act request for documentation has yet to be acknowledged. I will continue to focus a light on concerns at the VA until they are willing to be transparent. I have met a lot of public servants that work in VA hospitals who care about our heroes, but we must continue to call for accountability from their leadership. The men and women who have fought to defend our country and our freedom deserve more from the VA system.”
For his part, U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in light of the continued problems.
“Like a lot of people, I think I’m struggling to find the right words to describe just how bad this situation really is with the VA,” Nugent said on Friday. “‘Appalling’ and ‘disgraceful’ don’t really seem to capture it. We already know from Arizona and elsewhere that the very individuals we entrust to take care of the nation’s veterans have been purposefully hiding those veterans’ requests for help in a drawer so that nobody will know how bad the VA’s responsiveness and efficiency are.
“This is a serious breach of trust, first and foremost for the veterans who have been denied care, but I think for all veterans and for the entire country. So in Gainesville, the possibility that a mental health professional at the VA would potentially make a veteran who had requested assistance wait is a serious concern,” Nugent continued. “It’s unclear at this point exactly what’s happened in Gainesville, but what is clear is that the VA has lost its credibility. I don’t feel like I can trust them when they say that everything is fine and the accountability is there. The only thing at this point that’s going to restore that trust, in my opinion, is a change in leadership and sustained demonstration of results. Frankly, at this point, I believe the strongest leadership that Sec. Shinseki could show in this regard is to resign. It’s simply gone too far.”
Insisting this was not a “witch hunt” against the VA, Nugent called for officials to bring to light any wrongdoings.
“What matters here is restoring the service to veterans and also the breach of trust. If whistleblowers stay quiet, the situation won’t get fixed and our veterans will suffer because of it,” Nugent said. “Because of that anybody who knows of wrongdoing and doesn’t speak up is complicit in the mistreatment of veterans. And that is unacceptable to me and to the American people.”
U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., who hails from Gainesville and represents it, weighed in on Friday as well about the mater.
“The news about our veterans having to wait extended periods of time for the help they need at the Gainesville VA is disturbing and inexcusable,” Yoho said. “However, I commend the Office of Inspector General for quickly looking into this matter and working to find answers. My office will be watching this story very closely as more facts come to light.
“If it is true that some of these patients, according to the Gainesville Sun article, were on a waiting list for six months when they should have been given an appointment within 14 days, then someone must be held accountable,” Yoho added."These veterans -- who have served their country with honor – deserve the treatment they need in a timely manner. Our office will assist in any way necessary to fix this deficiency and hold accountable those who are responsible.”
Despite the problems, the White House continued to insist that the VA was making progress under President Barack Obama.
“The disability claims, the backlog and disability claims -- this is a specific problem and challenge that the VA and the White House and others in the administration have been aggressively attacking,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Friday. “And that is where you have seen a 50 percent reduction in the size of the backlog year over year, from this point to a year ago. And that has been important progress.
“On the matter of the absolute requirement that our veterans get the health care and services that they deserve and they get that in a timely fashion, the revelations or at least the allegations that have emerged from the situation in Phoenix I think have been greeted, in terms of reaction in the manner that Secretary Shinseki suggested yesterday, with a great deal of anger and frustration. And if they prove to be true, people will be held accountable,” Carney continued. “But these are matters -- and other issues that have been discussed in the wake of those allegations -- that are properly under review at the order of Sec. Shinseki, under investigation at the recommendation of Sec. Shinseki by the independent inspector general. And as you know, the pcesident and chief of staff here have responded to Sec. Shinseki’s recommendation by sending one of the president’s most trusted aides over to VA to help with that review, to work with Sec. Shinseki on that review.So I think that reflects the seriousness with which we approach this matter, our concern about some of the allegations that have been made. But I just wanted to make sure that it was understood that there is a -- that the disability claims issue is not the same issue that is being discussed when we talk about the allegations in Phoenix.”
Pressed on the matter, Carney had kind words for Shinseki’s leadership.
“What I’ve been saying is that under Sec. Shinseki’s leadership there has been a firm dedication to providing the kind of services that our veterans deserve,” Carney said. “It’s reflected in some of the decisions that were made to increase access to disability claims and to health care. We have, under his leadership, reduced veterans' homelessness by 24 percent. We’ve provided post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits to more than 1 million students. And we have decreased the disability claims. My point is that when I talk about the progress that has been made, I have been referring to questions about Sec. Shinseki and his leadership of the Veterans Affairs Department, and that progress has come on his watch and he certainly deserves credit for it.”
Carney also said Obama was engaged on the issue and had confidence in Shinseki despite sending Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to help tackle the issue.
“The president was asked about the allegations and answered forthrightly and expressed his concern about it,” Carney said. “The actions that we’ve taken reflect the concern that we have about it. And the fact that he has sent one of his most trusted and top aides from the White House over to the VA to assist the secretary in his review reflects the seriousness with which we take this matter.
“The president has confidence in Sec. Shinseki, someone with an incredibly admirable record in the military and in service to our veterans,” Carney added. “And, again, under Sec. Shinseki there has been significant progress. There remains a lot of work to do when it comes to making sure that our veterans get the services and care that they deserve, but Sec. Shinseki is aggressively tackling the challenges that we face on these matters.”
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.