No matter how you look at it, General Erik Shinseki’s ouster from the Department of Veterans Affairs has resolved very little. The VA still has a colossal disability benefits backlog to contend with, and that will likely be the case for years to come. For veterans, that means years more of long waiting times; for the White House, that means a political problem that will dog them for the remainder of President Obama’s tenure. As the Republicans made clear on Memorial Day weekend, they’re not letting this one go.
On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., argued that the president himself is responsible for VA mismanagement.
“[T]he buck stops there,” McCain said.
Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also laid some of the blame at the president’s feet in a Friday op-ed for Politico. Noting that the president nominated Shinseki six years ago in the midst of “a failing VA where wait times were unacceptable and reform was urgently needed,” Cantor asked, “In those six years, what has the President done about it?”
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., argued on Sunday’s Face the Nation that no single individual could be blamed for VA dysfunction. The problem, he said, is systemic and structural.
“I think everybody can bear some of the responsibility,” he said. “When you send men and women off to war, when they come home, we have a moral responsibility to make sure that all of them get the healthcare and the benefits that they deserve.”
Sanders, a rumored 2016 presidential candidate and the Senate’s only self-described democratic socialist, laid out his plan for reforming the VA on Sunday. Called the Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act of 2014, his plan is intended to modernize VA scheduling software and expand benefits for veterans, among other things.