Veterans Group CEO: VA Scandal Is 'Political Poison'

Thursday, 22 May 2014 12:48 PM

By Wanda Carruthers

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Heading into the Memorial Day weekend, the revelation of secret wait lists and delays in treatment at facilities under the Department of Veterans Affairs is "political poison" for federal officials and lawmakers, said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Rieckhoff said the VA's problems now go beyond VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. He said whether or not Shinseki steps down, there remains "deeply entrenched problems."

"Here's the bottom line. It's political poison right now for everybody," Rieckhoff told MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd" on Thursday. "This touches every agency. It touches the entire country."

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"It's Memorial Day. That's really what we wish we were focused on this weekend. Instead, we're focused on this scandal. And that's a real shame," he added.

The membership of Rieckhoff's organization is growing "more and more outraged by the day" about the problems at the VA and the response by President Barack Obama, Rieckhoff  said. Members are "furious at a level I've never seen in doing this work for a decade. And it's getting worse by the minute."

Obama on Wednesday addressed the problems at the VA for the first time publicly since whistleblowers came forward with the issue in April. He said he "would not tolerate," the problems at the agency, but stopped short of calling for Shinseki to step down.

Rieckhoff said his problem with the president's comment was that he didn't offer answers to the problems. He also questioned why Shinseki didn't appear with Obama on Wednesday.

The president "didn't say anything new. He didn't lay out a plan of action. If he had so much confidence in Shinseki, why wasn't he up there? He didn't even stand with him. I mean, the visual said a lot. He created a lot of distance between himself and Shinseki, more than we've ever seen in the past," he said.

Rieckhoff suggested the VA's problems stem from a "failure of leadership."

The VA "can't even comply with subpoenas. They can't even provide witnesses when they're called before Congress. That's how bad the leadership and the management is at the VA. And it's been that way for years," he said.

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