Sen. Richard Burr, who riled veterans' organizations by scolding them for refusing to call for Eric Shinseki's head, said on Friday that the VA secretary had made "the right decision" by stepping down.
"I know this was a difficult decision for a decorated veteran," Burr, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee of Veterans Affairs, said in a statement. "Secretary Shinseki built a career on tackling the tough challenges placed in front of him, and I thank him for his long and distinguished service to our nation.
"However, it was the right decision, as new leadership was needed at the agency," added the North Carolinian.
The controversy over the VA had divided organizations that advocate for veterans and their medical care, with some calling for Shinseki's resignation weeks ago while others stayed quiet.
The latter prompted Burr to issue an open letter complaining that some officials working for veterans service organizations were "more interested … in their own livelihoods and Washington connections than they are to the needs of their own members."
His letter provoked a firestorm. Veterans of Foreign Wars called it
"one of the most dishonorable and grossly inappropriate acts that we've witnessed in more than 40 years."
Burr replied that these veterans' advocates were more upset with him than they were with failing VA hospitals.
Burr struck a less combative note in his remarks on the Shinseki resignation, saying, "Along with new leadership, Congress must act to empower veterans facing unacceptable wait times at the VA with choice.”
"It must be reiterated that this problem is not about Phoenix but about the entire VA system and this one resignation will not solve the problem," he said. "This is not new, not contained within one facility, and not just about secret waitlists."
He added, "I look forward to working with Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson in his efforts to chart a new course for this troubled agency, and put it to work for all veterans.”
Other Republicans soon added their voices on Shinseki's decision to fall on his sword.
Louisiana Sen. David Vitter said, "Secretary Shinseki is an honorable veteran, but he’s been a horrible VA secretary. He clearly hasn’t been leading on these problems."
Vitter said the resignation does not solve the VA's problems. "It’s an important first step, but I'll be making sure that new leadership will take charge and stop this crisis." He said Gibson's first task is to start building 27 "long overdue" clinics nationwide.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said the VA's crisis is far bigger than one man. "We must hold accountable all who played a role in this national embarrassment," he said.
"In order to fix this systemic widespread management failure, I'm calling for the VA inspector general to conduct a top-to-bottom nationwide investigation."
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called on Senate Democrats to back his bill to make the firing of VA officials easier. "Under current law, whoever succeeds Secretary Shinseki will be prohibited from firing VA employees such as those detailed in the inspector general’s latest report, who have failed at their jobs and therefore failed our nation’s veterans," said Rubio.
"This level of failure is simply inexcusable and must be fixed immediately."
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said, "When problems in a department are widespread, the top leadership bears ultimate responsibility for the management shortcomings that let it happen. But this can’t be the end of the story.
"The problems will still be there after this resignation, and they need to be fixed. Everyone in the department who was responsible should go."
From the House Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who has been identified as a possible challenger to Speaker John Boehner, welcomed Shinseki's resignation, adding, "His resignation alone does not solve the very serious problems at the VA.
"Those responsible for any wrongdoing at VA facilities in Phoenix, Texas, or anywhere in the U.S., must be identified and held accountable for their actions. In order to truly fix a system that is broken and not serving our veterans properly, we must ultimately address the systemic lack of accountability across the Departments of Veterans Affairs to ensure that our veterans we never again face the kind of backlogs and degradation of service they are currently experiencing."
And Rep. Tom Price of Georgia said, "Our focus should be on how we make the VA a department that is responsive to the needs of our veterans and offers them the choices in care we all desire for ourselves and our families."
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