Sen. Durbin: VA 'Overwhelmed' With Iraq, Afghanistan Vets

Thursday, 22 May 2014 10:40 AM

By Wanda Carruthers

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is "overwhelmed" by military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Sen. Dick Durbin said.

The Illinois Democrat said he's going to put Secretary Eric Shinseki "on the spot" when he meets with him Thursday to discuss reports of delayed treatment for veterans.

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"The VA system is being overwhelmed. The question is whether we can rise to this challenge," Durbin told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Thursday.

Durbin, who is the Senate majority whip, said, "Almost half of the returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are filing disability claims." He said that was a "dramatically larger number" than in prior years.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday said, “I will not tolerate it. Period,” if the reports of delayed care at the VA and secret wait lists proved to be true. The president, however, did not call for Shinseki to step down in light of the allegations.

Durbin would not answer directly when asked by "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough whether or not Shinseki should step down as head of the VA. He said he thought Obama was "respectful of General Shinseki's contribution to this country." He called Shinseki an "amazing man" whom he respected "very, very much."

There had been improvements in the VA system, Durbin said, but called the current situation "unacceptable" and suggested there would be "clear accountability." He said the services provided by the VA were better "in some aspects" than when Shinseki took over in 2009.

"General Shinseki today, I'm going to put him on the spot to tell me what he's done in these six years, and where we are. From where we stand right now, what we've heard, unacceptable. We have to reach the point where we serve our veterans and keep our promises to them," Durbin said.

Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, asked Durbin where he would "draw the line" and demand that "heads have to roll" over the deficiencies in care at the VA.

"Where I draw the line is when any of the 750,000 veterans in Illinois come forward and ask this government for services promised, and they are not given those services in a timely, professional way. Period," Durbin answered.

If Shinseki were ousted from his position at the VA, Durbin said "the challenge at the VA would still be there." However, he said changes would have to be made if the health of veterans was compromised by problems at the VA.

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