Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki's tenure at the helm of the embattled agency grew more perilous on Wednesday, as several Democrats joined Republicans in calling for his resignation after a new report found widespread problems throughout the vast VA healthcare system.
"The inspector general's preliminary report makes it clear that the systemic problems at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are so entrenched that they require new leadership to be fixed. Secretary Shinseki must step down," Colorado Sen. Mark Udall
said in a statement.
The two-term Democrat, who is facing a tough re-election bid this fall against GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"We need new leadership who will demand accountability to fix these problems and ensure the VA is providing Coloradans the services they've earned," Udall said.
He was the first Democrat senator
to call for Shinseki to step down, but was soon joined by others. John Walsh
of Montana, said that Shinseki needed to go because "America's veterans deserve an immediate end to the troubles plaguing the VA, and we must take urgent steps to secure the care they deserve.
"With the launch of inspections of VA facilities nationwide, it’s time to put the partisanship aside and focus on what’s right for our veterans."
Then North Carolina's Kay Hagan
piled on, saying she was "outraged" by the report. "We can no longer put our faith in the current VA leadership’s ability to fix these problems," she said.
Late Wednesday Minnesota's Al Franken and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire also called for Shinseki to go.
All five of the Democrats face elections in November.
The interim report
by Richard Griffin, the VA's acting inspector general, disclosed that as many as 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off the wait lists at the Phoenix Veterans' Administration Center. The report found that investigators had "substantiated serious conditions" at the facility.
The 35-page document confirmed allegations of excessive waiting time for care at the Arizona facility, with an average 115-day wait for a first appointment for those on the wait list.
"While our work is not complete, we have substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care at this medical facility," Griffin wrote in the report.
The investigation also found that "inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout" the nationwide VA healthcare system, which serves about 6.5 million veterans each year.
The report escalated Republican calls for Shinseki, 71, a retired four-star Army general who lost part of his foot in Vietnam, to leave the agency that he has headed since 2009.
Three influential Republicans who had avoided calling for Shinseki's resignation — House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller of Florida, House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon of California; and Sen. John McCain of Arizona. — reversed course after the report was released.
"The VA needs a leader who will take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability," Miller said
in a statement. "Secretary Shinseki has proven time and again he is not that leader. That’s why it’s time for him to go."
Miller also called for Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a criminal investigation into the agency. His committee was holding a hearing late Wednesday, where three VA officials were due to testify about the agency's failure to comply with a subpoena for documents on the scandal.
"I am deeply troubled by many of the findings in the interim report released today by the VA inspector general," McCain said
in a statement. "Most disturbing may be the report’s finding that some 1,700 veterans waiting for primary care appointments were never placed on the VA’s electronic wait list. It is totally unacceptable for our veterans to be 'forgotten or lost' by the VA.
McCain added that "now is the time" for Shinseki to quit.
"Under new leadership, the VA must get to truth of these allegations, hold to account those responsible, institute far-reaching reforms, and begin to restore the confidence of the veterans it was established to serve."
He also joined Miller's call for a criminal investigation. He and fellow Arizona Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake, held a news conference in Washington after the report was released.
While McKeon praised
Shinseki's military service, the senator said "it would be best" if he left the agency — "both as an example for other VA leaders and to lay the groundwork for new leadership to meet with success."
Several Republicans took to Twitter to call for Shinseki's resignation:
They were joined by Democrats:
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