American Legion Calls for VA's Chief, Two Aides to Quit

Image: American Legion Calls for VA's Chief, Two Aides to Quit Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki

Monday, 05 May 2014 09:44 PM

By Cathy Burke

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The head of the American Legion Monday called for the resignations of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and two aides amid a probe into alleged corruption and unnecessary deaths at a Phoenix VA hospital that "are part of what appear to be a pattern of scandals that has infected the entire system."

The Legion's national commander, Daniel Dellinger, issued the stunning call on the heels of whistleblower reports that more than 40 veterans may have died waiting for treatment while the Phoenix Veterans Administration Health Care System kept a secret waiting list to cover up delays in care, Stars and Stripes reported.

Dellinger also pointed to an outbreak of Legionnaires disease at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System he linked to "continuous management failures," and delays in providing specialty services to Georgia veterans that may have hastened the deaths of three cancer patients.

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In addition, Dellinger noted a USA Today report about records that were falsified to make it look like doctors were seeing patients within approved time frames at a VA clinic in Fort Collins, Colo.

The accusations met with an immediate rejection at the VA, where spokesman Drew Brookie defended the secretary record.

Shinseki, a Vietnam War vet wounded in the conflict, retired from the Army in 2003 after serving as chief of staff, was nominated by President Obama and took over as veterans affairs secretary in January 2009.

"Secretary Shinseki has dedicated his life to his fellow Veterans, and nobody is more committed to completing the work that lies ahead," Brookie said in a statement, the Washington Post reported, "... providing Veterans the quality care and benefits they have earned through their service is our only mission at VA."

But Dellinger, while praising Shinseki’s military service, pointed to a damning record as the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, saying it "tells a different story," Stars and Stripes reported.

"It’s a story of poor oversight and failed leadership."

Obama, nevertheless, will stand behind Shinseki while a VA’s inspector general is investigating the alleged problems, the Washington Post reported.

"The president remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the department and to take appropriate action based on the IG’s findings," according to a White House statement.

VFW National Commander William Thien also opposed the resignation, but said Shinseki will have to answer questions – and earn back confidence.

“It is paramount that Secretary Shinseki get publicly in front of this immediately to address the valid concerns of veterans and their families, and to re-establish the credibility of the entire VA health and benefits systems, and that of his own office,” Thien said in a press release.

American Legion officials said the last time the organization called on a federal official to resign was in 1941, when it demanded Labor Secretary Frances Perkins step down, Stars and Stripes reported.

The Legion also called for the resignations of Under Secretary of Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey for "poor oversight and failed leadership."

In the Phoenix scandal, Shinseki announced Thursday three officials there have been placed on leave in the wake of two whistleblowers' frightening report, the Republic reported.

The VA's Dr. Katherine Mitchell told the newspaper she and a co-worker discovered a plan by VA officials to destroy records that, they believe, falsified wait times for sick vets.

"I had no doubts they were capable of destroying evidence," Mitchell told the newspaper last week. "So there I am, a 47-year-old doctor with two degrees, trying to figure out where to hide stuff."

Monday's call for Shinseki's resignation isn't the first.

Last year, California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter and Concerned Veterans for America called for Shinseki to resign, and House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said the agency should fire Hickey, The Post reported.

Miller, in a statement, said he has "the utmost respect" for Dellinger, and that he'd wait until the inspector general’s review is complete to decide whether resignations are warranted, The Post reported.

But he added the American Legion’s request should be "sending shock waves through the White House."

The House last week passed legislation that would ban bonuses for senior VA executives in response to the department’s recent troubles. It was sponsored by Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who called the measure necessary because of "systematic leadership failures," The Post reported.

The VA is facing other corruption incidents:
  • In Jackson, Miss., top level managers at a VA hospital remain on the job despite an Office of Special Counsel report last year that implicated them in criminal wrongdoing, the Daily Caller reported in March. The report stated that many of the problems stemmed from the hospital’s reliance on nurse practitioners at the expense of doctors.
  • And in February,William Montague, the former director of the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland, pleaded guilty to 64 corruption-related charges; his sentencing is set for May 20. Montague’s crimes included money laundering, wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiring to defraud the VA through bribery and kickback schemes in which he accepted tens of thousands of dollars from contractors in exchange for inside information about VA contracts and projects, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.
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The Associated Press contributed to this story

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