Republican leaders doubled down on their criticisms of the president and Democrats over the Veterans Affairs scandal on Wednesday, with a new open letter to the president.
The letter, signed by Reps. John Boehner, Eric Cantor of Virginia, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, calls for the president to outline a detailed plan to fix the Veterans Affairs health care system and pushes to allow veterans to seek health care outside the system.
Allegations of lengthy wait times at one Phoenix hospital and manipulated paper work by VA officials prompted a nationwide inquiry, which found systemic delays in health care nationwide. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki ultimately resigned in the wake of the scandal, and though many Republicans called for his head repeatedly, the leadership says his departure is not enough.
“Much more needs to be done,” they wrote, asking the president to lobby Democrats in the Senate to vote for a House bill that would allow the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire or demote top VA officials who aren’t performing well.
"Our veterans should not be left in limbo."'
Shinseki supported the bill, but Senate Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders opposed the bill for fear of causing unnecessary and unfair firings. Sanders proposed another bill, which would allow senior officials to be held responsible while preventing what he called “wholesale political firings.” The bill would also allow veterans to seek medical care outside the system and let the VA lease 27 new health facilities. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday he hoped to move forward with the bill quickly.
The Republican leadership also pressed to have the VA cooperate with House and Senate committees for oversight purposes and pressed the president to find a speedier solution for veterans awaiting healthcare nationwide, proposing, like Sanders, they be allowed to seek medical care outside the VA system.
“All veterans on waiting lists should be able to easily access care outside the VA without waiting for a potentially corrupt facility to approve their request. Our veterans should not be left in limbo,” the letter read, highlighting a House bill that would allow veterans to receive care outside the VA if the wait time is longer than a month said.
The letter did herald the president’s recent actions as “strong first steps” but pressed him aggressively for stronger action on the “national disgrace.”
“It is imperative that you lay out for the American people your vision for reforming what is clearly a broken system. Are you willing to do whatever it takes, pending the results of the investigations that are underway, to ensure our veterans get the care we owe them, even if it means shaking up the current bureaucracy and rethinking the entire system?" they concluded.