Calls for the Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign increased on both sides of the aisle after the VA inspector general released an explosive preliminary report confirming excessive wait times for veterans seeking care and a cover-up by VA officials.
The watchdog’s report discredited official figures from the Phoenix VA that said that veterans waited, on average, just 24 days for care. The IG report discovered that, left out of the official data, were at least 1,700 veterans who had been placed on wait lists not included in the VA’s official reporting. As a result, the actual average wait time for veterans’ care was closer to 115 days.
Shinseki expressed anger and surprise in a statement after the report made headlines.
“I have reviewed the interim report, and the findings are reprehensible to me, to this Department, and to veterans,” Shinseki said in a statement.
The official also went into damaged-control mode, attempting to assuage public outrage by provide timely care for the affected veterans by ordering the VA to “immediately triage each of the 1,700 veterans identified.”
But the actions are too little, too late for many people watching the Veterans’ Affairs scandal unfold—and there is likely more damning evidence of VA malfeasance to come.
Senator John Walsh, a Montana Democrat and the only Iraq War veteran in the upper legislative chamber, said that the findings of the IG report require immediate action from President Obama.
“The Inspector General’s report confirms the worst of the allegations against the VA and its failure to deliver timely care to veterans. It is time for President Obama to remove Secretary Shinseki from office,” Walsh said.
The lawmaker added, “Accountability lies with President Obama, Secretary Shinseki, the VA, and also with Congress, which has the obligation to fully fund the costs of war. Congress must provide the resources that will eliminate the backlog and improve the quality of care available to men and women who have served.”
Colorado Democratic Senator Mark Udall also called for Shinseki to be removed from office.
“In light of IG report & systemic issues,” the lawmaker said via Twitter, Shinseki should step down.
The condemnations are a far cry from Representative Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) assertion earlier in the week that the VA situation doesn’t necessarily qualify as a “scandal.”
“I think anytime our men and women in uniform are not served in a manner they deserve, you could perhaps call it ‘a scandal,’ because it’s scandalous,” she said in an interview with Vox. “Whether its ‘a scandal’ with intention and the rest of that the evidence remains to be seen.”
Many Republicans have expressed similar sentiments since the first reports about the VA problems surfaced. Other members of the GOP who have avoided such harsh criticisms were also moved to call for the President to act by the IG report.
“I haven’t said this before, but I think it’s time for Gen. Shinseki to move on,” Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CNN.
Meanwhile, veterans’ groups were outraged by the findings of the report.
“The VA’s problems are broad and deep — and President Obama and his team haven’t demonstrated they can fix it,” said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America chief executive Paul Rieckhoff, adding. “Today’s report makes it painfully clear that the VA does not always have our veterans’ backs.”
The White House stopped short of saying whether Shinseki’s job was at peril during a press conference Wednesday— though Press Secretary Jay Carney said the President “found the findings [of the report] extremely troubling.”
Television personality Montel Williams, who served 22 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy, summed up the growing public outrage over the VA’s failings and the White House’s failure to act during an appearance on Fox.
“The President just promised $5 billion for terrorists around the world?!” he asked Neil Cavuto angrily. “At West Point?! Where he could have used today to say, ‘I’m sorry! For the pain that I’ve caused you, the families! And I’m going to fix it today!’”
Williams was referencing Obama’s Wednesday commencement speech at the military academy, which paired a muddled foreign policy message mixed with a dollop of global warming caution.