Veterans groups responded angrily to an open letter from North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr that criticized them for refusing to call for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The exchanges opened a new front in the fight over how to fix the VA's problems and the growing controversy that VA hospitals throughout the country have maintained secret waiting lists to cover up delays in patient care that have led to the deaths of at least 40 veterans, The Wall Street Journal
Veterans of Foreign Wars' commander in chief William Thien and John Hamilton, the adjutant general, said Burr's letter was a "monumental cheap shot" and a "disgusting ambush style of politics," adding in their own open letter that Burr should be ashamed of his conduct.
"Senator, this is clearly one of the most dishonorable and grossly inappropriate acts that we've witnessed in more than 40 years of involvement with the veteran community and breaches the standards of the United States Senate," Thien and Hamilton wrote, according to Politico
"Your allegations are ugly and mean-spirited in every sense of the words and are profoundly wrong, both logically and morally. Quite frankly Senator, you should be ashamed."
On Friday, Burr, the ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee, said that with the exception of the American Legion, veterans groups appeared "more interested in defending the status quo within the VA, protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the secretary and his inner circle" than in helping members, according to Politico.
"Last week's hearing made it clear to me that the [veterans groups executive] staff has ignored the constant VA problems expressed by their members and is more interested in their own livelihoods and Washington connections than they are to the needs of their own members," Burr wrote.
Paralyzed Veterans of America National President Bill Lawson and Executive Director Homer Townsend Jr. wrote in their response that Burr represents "the worst of politics in this country."
"Your attitude and actions reflect great discredit upon the United States Senate, and every member of Congress should be embarrassed by your 'open' letter. Only a politician would be so bold as to believe he or she knows better what veterans want and need than actual veterans themselves. You clearly represent the worst of politics in this country," they wrote.
The Disabled American Veterans also criticized Burr.
"Senator Burr may be enamored with the idea that all of VA's problems and challenges can be overcome by replacing one secretary, but the plain facts and simple logic indicate otherwise," the group said, according to Politico.
Burr stood by his comments, reiterating his criticism of the veterans service organizations in another statement Sunday and in an interview Monday.
"The VSOs' response is a rousing defense of the status quo at VA," Burr wrote. "It's clear that my open letter to America's veterans has outraged some VSOs more than the scandals at VA — I believe their testimony stands on its own."
Veterans groups have long pushed for more VA funding and have said a lack of resources played a role in long wait times. Burr has argued that private-sector competition, not a bigger budget, could fix the problems in the VA health system, the Journal reported.
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