The American Legion, an influential veterans group, and some
Republicans have called for Shinseki to step down following reports
on whistleblowers' claims that up to 40 veterans died while waiting
for appointments or specialist care at a VA hospital in Phoenix.
"I do support General Shinseki," Hagel told the ABC program "This
Week," referring to the former four-star Army general who lost part
of a foot to a land mine during the Vietnam War.
"But there's no margin here. If this (reported delays in care), in
fact, or any variation of this occurred, all the way along the chain
accountability is going to have to be upheld here because we can
never let this kind of outrage, if all of this is true, stand in
this country," the defense secretary added.
Asked about VA care for veterans that includes an average wait of
five months, Hagel said, "No, it's not good enough, obviously. It
has to be better." He also said the problems in the VA did not start
under Shinseki bur rather "should have been looked at years and
Hagel is a decorated veteran who served during the Vietnam War as an
enlisted man before becoming a Republican U.S. senator and later
defense secretary under Democratic President Barack Obama.
The Veterans Affairs Committee in the Republican-controlled House of
Representatives last week approved a subpoena ordering Shinseki and
other top VA officials to produce all emails and written
correspondence sent between April 9 and May 8 related to the
disappearance or destruction of a secret patient wait list at the
Phoenix VA hospital.
[to top of second column]
A senior House Republican on Sunday signaled impatience with
Shinseki. Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House
Intelligence Committee, told the CBS program "Face the Nation" that
Obama is "going to have to make a decision on Mr. Shinseki."
"If Mr. Shinseki can't come here and tell Congress how exactly he's
going to change that culture there, I think we need to find somebody
who's willing to go in and shake up the Veteran's Affairs so that
their number one, two and third priority is taking care of the men
and women who serve this country," Rogers said.
Shinseki's department provides patient care and federal benefits to
veterans and their dependents. Veterans Affairs is the biggest U.S.
healthcare system, including 1,700 hospitals, clinics and other
facilities with nearly 9 million people enrolled.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Jim Loney and Paul Simao)
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