Veterans groups fired back against Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s criticisms this weekend, as the fight over how to fix the veterans’ health care system escalates.
The clash began Friday when Burr, the top Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee in the Senate, criticized veterans groups for not calling for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation.
Burr said he believed top staff members “ignored the constant VA problems expressed by their members and [are] more interested in their own livelihoods and Washington connections than they are to the needs of their own members.”
Veterans groups have called for changes, but like President Barack Obama, they’ve shied away from saying that Shinseki should be held responsible for the health care delays and cover-up that VA hospitals have been accused of inflicting on veterans.
According to the Wall Street Journal, The Veterans of Foreign Wars Veteran fired back with over the weekend calling Burr’s remarks “an absolutely disgusting ambush style of politics” and a “monumental cheap shot.”
At the center of the feud are allegations of extensive wait times for veterans seeking medical care and an attempt by staffers of Veterans Affairs hospitals to obscure these delays. Burr and other Republicans have called for Shinseki’s head; Democrats in conservative districts are increasingly joining them, like Michelle Nunn in Burr’s state of North Carolina and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky.
“Your allegations are ugly and mean-spirited in every sense of the words and are profoundly wrong, both logically and morally. Quite frankly Senator, you should be ashamed,” the Veterans of Foreign Wars statement said, noting that their D.C. staff that Burr had criticized have been deployed to combat a combined 47 times.
“You clearly represent the worst of politics of this country,” two top officials of the Paralyzed Veterans of America said Sunday of Burr.
“Senator Burr may be enamored with the idea that all of VA’s problems and challenges can be overcome by replacing one secretary, but the plain facts and simple logic indicate otherwise,” a third statement from the Disabled American Veterans said.
Burr stood by his remarks, though.
“It seems that my open letter to veterans has brought more outrage than the VA crisis itself,” he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview, saying he’d hoped to rally the groups’ members with his criticisms.
“I don’t think that their leaders in Washington…are fighting the battle that they need right now,” he said.
Correction, 12:00 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said Michelle Nunn was from North Carolina; she is, in fact, a candidate in Georgia.