Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Thursday called for an independent investigation into the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, charging that the White House is trying to "pass off a scandal as an isolated incident" by naming an insider to probe abuses at the agency.
"Our veterans are our heroes and they deserve better than a White House insider-led investigation," Priebus said in a statement. "They deserve an independent investigation.
He said the VA scandal "continues to grow every day. There are reports that at least 40 veterans have died waiting for care.
"It’s time for an independent investigation." Priebus said.
President Barack Obama late Wednesday named White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors to review patient-safety rules and issues surrounding patient appointments. The move comes amid allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at a Phoenix veteran's hospital.
The Phoenix VA hospital has been accused of maintaining a secret waiting list to hide lengthy delays for sick veterans. A former clinic director says up to 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment there.
Problems similar to those that surfaced in Phoenix have since been reported in other states. The Phoenix VA Health Care System, which includes a hospital and at least a half-dozen satellite clinics, serves about 80,000 veterans.
At a hearing Thursday before the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, Secretary Eric Shinseki said that he was angry and saddened by the allegations.
"Any adverse event for a veteran within our care is one too many," Shinseki said in testimony prepared for the hearing. "We can, and we must, do better."
Shinseki pledged to work with the administration in the probe.
Other Republicans called for White House accountability in the scandal, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
"It's time President Obama personally answer for the horrific conditions and abuses occurring at our veterans facilities," Cantor said in a statement. "Secretary Shinseki should be held accountable for the failures of his department, but it is ultimately President Obama who must answer for what has occurred under his administration.
"Problems under the VA health system have sadly spanned decades, but recent events are strikingly abusive and have had tragic results for our nation's heroes," Cantor said. "Our nation’s veterans can’t wait on an internal White House staff review for this to be resolved."
He added that the House will vote on legislation to bring more accountability to the agency.
"It's time for President Obama to apologize to our nation's veterans, explain what he is doing to immediately fix the situation, and ensure the best possible care for our veterans and support for their families going forward," Cantor said.
The VA system is the largest healthcare system in the country, serving nearly 9 million veterans every year at 152 hospitals and more than 1,500 other sites nationwide. Surveys show patients are mostly satisfied with their care.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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