Saying "the buck stops at the top" at a Veterans Affairs Department mired in deepening scandal, the head of the American Legion — a veterans group with 2.4 million members — told Newsmax TV on Friday he still wants embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.
"Yesterday he said he's 'mad as hell' — excuse the word — but is that enough? We need action here, and that's what that leadership's supposed to do," American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger told "America's Forum" host J.D. Hayworth.
In repeating his organization's call for Shinseki to go, Dellinger cited a rash of preventable deaths at military hospitals, as well as reports of cover-ups of botched veterans' care
and lethal delays in treatment.
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"We've been tracking this for a long time now, ever since the Legionnaires [disease] outbreak in Pittsburgh back in 2011," said Dellinger, contending the VA's problems go "a lot deeper" than the revelation that 40 veterans died
waiting for doctors' appointments in Phoenix.
"We've seen this all across the country," he said.
"I mean, we've had dirty instruments, colonoscopies not being administered — it goes on and on," said Dellinger, noting the VA has also disclosed 23 other preventable veterans' deaths in the South and elsewhere, over and above the deaths in Phoenix.
"This is not the leadership that we're looking for to give our men and women the best care possible — our veterans," he said.
Shinseki, a former Army Chief of Staff and decorated Vietnam combat veteran who lost part of a foot to a land mine, told a Senate panel
on Thursday he's "mad as hell" over VA failures, and plans to investigate, but won't resign.
Dellinger questioned whether being mad is enough.
"We have the utmost respect for him as a general," said Dellinger. "He's a great patriot. He's an American war hero, and we can only say good things about him. But when it comes to our veterans losing their lives every day, that is unacceptable."
Dellinger said veterans had great hopes for Shinseki even as they understood the VA needed major changes.
"We seriously thought — up until a couple months ago, really thought he could turn this around," he said.
Dellinger also said that if an audit of problem VA hospitals promised by Shinseki turns up evidence of corruption and incompetence, then the Justice Department should prosecute.
Dellinger wrote last week
that calling for Shinseki's resignation is "one of the hardest things I have ever had to do as national commander."
"We don't take this likely," he said Friday. "This is the first time in over 30 years we've asked for a public official's resignation, and in the military if your unit fails, you're relieved of duty. In the private sector, how many CEOs lately have been forced out for minor issues within their corporations? The buck stops at the top."
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