The White House gave no real consideration to President Obama visiting
the VA facility that was at the center of the scandal that led to as many as 40 deaths while he visited Phoenix on Thursday — and the snub outraged Republicans and veteran's organizations.
"Not really" was how White House spokesman Josh Earnest responded to a reporter's question aboard Air Force One Thursday afternoon about whether the administration had considered visiting the Phoenix Veterans Administration Health Care Center.
"The president traveled to Arizona because Arizona was one of the states that was … among the most hardest-hit states in the country in the midst of the housing downturn," Earnest said, according to a transcript of the session.
Obama visited Phoenix to announce a program to cut mortgage fees charged by the Federal Housing Authority. He said the program could save homeowners $900 a year and attract 250,000 first-time buyers. The announcement was a precursor to the president's State of the Union speech on Jan. 20.
The president spoke at Central High School in Phoenix, around the corner from the VA center, KSAZ Fox 10 reports. His motorcade passed by the facility. He exercised at a local hotel earlier in the day and later visited former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 shooting rampage that killed six people and injured 12 others.
"This was an appropriate venue for the president to talk about some steps that he believes we can take, and the steps that he has taken, using his executive authority, to try to build on the momentum in the housing market," Earnest told reporters.
The Phoenix center was the nexus of the scandal
that placed veterans seeking care on fake waiting lists — leading to as many as 40 deaths of veterans seeking appointments, the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and an investigation of the agency's 42 medical centers nationwide for similar problems.
But in August, the VA's Office of Inspector General said that its investigation could not definitively tie the deaths to the long wait times created by the falsified lists.
The Phoenix VA Health Care System, which includes the hospital and at least a half-dozen satellite clinics, serves about 80,000 veterans.
Obama's refusal to visit the center outraged Republicans and local veterans.
"It is a testament to this president’s misplaced priorities that he would choose a photo op for his next executive action over visiting the VA hospital where veterans died on secret government waiting lists instead of getting care," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who urged Obama to visit the center earlier this week, said it was "deeply disturbing" that the president did not stop at the hospital.
"Unfortunately, President Obama missed another opportunity to do right by those who have served and sacrificed on our nation's behalf," McCain said.
Matthew Kenney of the Concerned Veterans of America slammed Obama for not stopping at the center.
"Being that this is ground zero and the president is only a couple of blocks away from the Phoenix VA while he’s speaking at Central High School, we would think, if he was serious about VA reform, that he would come down to the Phoenix VA, see what the problems are, see them first-hand, and come up with solutions to fix it,” Kenney told KSAZ.
Story continues below video.
A small number of veterans gathered across from the high school before Obama's speech.
"We hope, but not holding my breath," Dan Caldwell of Concerned Veterans for America told KTAR.com.
"He's been very hands-off throughout this entire scandal.
"He's not shown interest in reforming and fixing the VA beyond signing a bill that he had no role in helping craft and moving through Congress," Caldwell said.
Jesus Miramon, who served in Vietnam, wore his old U.S. Army dress uniform and held up a sign saying "do not hate vets today" as he waited for Obama to arrive.
"It is true that he should not be hating a vet today," Miramon said. "He should be showing us a little love today.
"His presence will be enough, even if he doesn't say anything, it would be enough," he added. "But he should show us some kind of respect."
Mike Woods, a Phoenix veteran, expressed disappointment that Obama skipped an easy visit that could have sent a message to veterans and hospital staff of his interest.
"He's the commander in chief of our armed forces, and we're veterans," Woods said. "We're guys that went to war for him.
"And he doesn't have enough respect to see that we get care that our taxpayers paid deeply ... for?"
In his comments, Earnest told reporters that Obama's executive orders in the VA scandal led to 300 more employees being hired at the center — adding that as many as 300,000 more appointments had been scheduled and completed between May and October.
But House Speaker John Boehner said earlier Thursday that the orders have not improved what he called a "broken system."
"We call on the president to offer a long-term vision for reforming the systemic problems at the VA," Boehner said. "We've yet to see it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.