Rep. Jeff Miller: Interim VA Secretary Must Restore Trust

Saturday, 31 May 2014 10:16 PM

By Todd Beamon

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House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller praised new interim VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, saying that he could move quickly to restore confidence in the embattled agency.

"Someone needed to move into the position quickly," the Florida Republican told former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee Saturday on his Fox News program. "He is a good man. He can, at least in this interim period, start the process that needs to be done."

Miller said he talked with Gibson, who was the No. 2 officer at the VA, shortly after President Barack Obama named him to replace Eric Shinseki, who resigned in light of the scandal over falsified wait times at agency centers nationwide on Friday.

"If he will transfer the aggravation and the anger that he shared with me as to the way that the department has acted, I think he's going to go a long way in getting the thing started," Miller said.

After publicly apologizing for the controversy, Shinseki resigned at the White House as head of the VA that he had headed since 2009. His tenure steadily grew in peril after an inspector general's report found widespread problems within the huge VA system.

As many as 1,700 veterans in Phoenix were in limbo on whether they might receive health coverage at the VA center there because of the secret wait lists.

The report led to more than 100 members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to call for his resignation.

Shinseki, 71, was a retired four-star Army general who served in Vietnam.

Gibson, a West Point graduate, was head of the USO before coming to the VA in February. He is in charge while Obama seeks a permanent replacement.

In his Huckabee interview, Miller said that Shinseki's departure was inevitable.

"He saw the handwriting on the wall," he said. "The numbers began to rise" of legislators calling for his ouster.

"The bureaucrats within the system chose not to give him the bad news, chose to cook the books. Unfortunately, the secretary was the one who took the first hit in a process that's going to be a long process.

"I would predict that a lot of people would lose their jobs over this," Miller said.

He added that the issues facing the VA were "mismanagement and manipulation," saying that the agency had a $150 billion budget this fiscal year, with more than a third of that slated for healthcare.

That's why Miller has proposed legislation to allow veterans who have been waiting for healthcare appointments for 30 days or more to seek treatment at private hospitals at VA expense.

"That's exactly what needs to be done. All hands on deck," he told Huckabee. "Anybody that's standing in line to get healthcare at the VA should be able to go out on a fee-based process."

Referring to the agency's huge budget, Miller added: "What's really bad is that the department has had the ability to do this. They've had the money to do this. They didn't need to do anything."

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