Attack Obama Over Veterans Scandal
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[May 30, 2014]
By Susan Cornwell and David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans stepped
up their attacks on the Obama administration over a deepening Veterans
Affairs healthcare delay scandal on Thursday, but House Speaker John
Boehner again declined to join a growing list of lawmakers calling for
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.
Boehner told reporters he was still not convinced that Shinseki's
ouster would solve the VA's problems. Instead, he sought to keep the
pressure on President Barack Obama for VA scheduling abuses that
covered up monthslong delays for veterans' medical care
"I'm going to continue to reserve judgment on General Shinseki,"
Boehner said, adding: "The real issue here is the president is the
one who should be held accountable."
On Wednesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general
confirmed in an interim report that Phoenix VA officials manipulated
data to vastly understate appointment waiting times for veterans,
and said the problem was "systemic" throughout the VA. It added that
the data was used to calculate bonus awards.
The report prompted dozens of lawmakers from both parties to turn
against Shinseki and demand his resignation.
Several more prominent Democratic senators joined these calls on
Thursday, including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Jeff Merkley of
Oregon, who face tight re-election races. Also asking Shinseki to
step aside were both of Virginia’s Democratic senators, Mark Warner
and Tim Kaine.
CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE
Shinseki is expected to address the VA probes on Friday in a speech
to a conference on homeless veterans, an agency official said.
Shinseki met with leaders of veterans groups to outline his action
plan, but the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said this did
not restore their confidence in him.
"We still have serious questions about whether the secretary has the
tools, resources, and the confidence of VA staff and veterans to
create real reform,” said Derek Bennett, the group's chief of staff.
The scandal exploded earlier this month after VA doctors in Phoenix
went public with allegations that some 40 veterans had died while
waiting months for primary-care appointments.
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White House spokesman Jay Carney repeatedly declined to say whether
Obama still has confidence in Shinseki but added that the president
wanted accountability based on the outcome of investigations and
results of an internal VA audit due shortly.
Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is
pursuing its own investigation into the care delay scandal and new
legislation to address it.
These include a measures from Representative Jeff Miller of Florida,
chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, to freeze VA bonus
awards for five years and to order that veterans be allowed to seek
private care at the agency's expense if they are forced to wait more
than 30 days for an appointment.
Miller, frustrated with what he calls an "inadequate" VA response to
his committee's subpoenas for emails and other correspondence
related to the Phoenix secret waiting lists, said he is planning to
file a federal court petition to try to compel the agency to turn
over more documents.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander and Richard Cowan, writing
by David Lawder; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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