This week embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is scheduled to face a Senate panel after veterans groups and some lawmakers have called for his resignation.
There’s bipartisan agreement that the V-A is failing hundreds of thousands of veterans who have waited months to get care. Some Republican lawmakers and two prominent veterans groups have called for the resignation of Shinseki amid reports that dozens of veterans died while awaiting care at a Phoenix V-A hospital.
“Clearly there’s been a failure," says Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith who adds the V-A needs a shake up.“If he can get in in the next few months and get to the bottom of it and some heads roll and we see some improvements then I would have confidence. If we don’t see anything happening and it’s just “Oh my, what are we going to do.” Then clearly that would breed some lack of confidence.”
With such a large military presence throughout Virginia, lawmakers in the commonwealth are keeping a close watch on developments at the V-A. Virginia Republican Congressman Rob Wittman is on the Armed Services Committee. He says the buck stops with leaders in the V-A.
“It has to start at the top from there on down, so I want General Shinseki to be held accountable.”
Unlike a growing number of Republicans, Wittman says he hasn’t lost faith in Shinseki. He says he’d rather press him for answers and a timetable then push him out.
“And making sure we have attainable and reasonable efforts to make sure that this is being taken care of we’re taking care of and that includes milestones.”
Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly says Shinseki has made progress on his goal of eliminating the backlog by next year.
“There are problems with the delivery of health care in the VA health care system, but if there’s anybody who has tried to roll up his sleeves and tried to tackle those problems its General Shinseki. He’s reduced the backlog by 44% and I can tell you in terms of constituent work I’ve noticed that.”
Still hundreds of thousands of veterans remain untreated and lawmakers in both parties are losing patience, with many saying they’re waiting for an inspector general’s report on the V-A before casting judgment. Connolly says a part of the problem is the system is being flooded.
“The system is being overwhelmed with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – now that’s not an excuse for not getting it right, but I am impressed that General Shinseki has made this his life mission. And I think he’s maybe the wrong person to be blaming for ills that have plagued the VA healthcare system for a long time.”
Connolly says instead of pointing fingers Republicans ought to plus up the VA’s budget. “Some of it’s resources and some of obviously is that some of the problems that have built up in the previous administration will take time to eat into.”
Northern Virginia Democrat Jim Moran says calls for Shinseki to step down are premature.“That’s just finding ways to blame someone associated with the Obama administration. Work with him to fix it. That’s what General Shinseki wants to do.”
And Congressman Griffith adds the answer to the backlog may not even come from Washington. “It’s a question of creating an environment within the individual hospitals to do what’s right and yes, senior management out of DC can effect that but it’s a matter of making sure you have the right people in the individual hospitals.”
Shinseki has ordered an audit of every V-A clinic in the nation ahead of facing what’s expected to be a tough round of questioning at Thursday’s Senate hearing.