VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is on "thin ice," according to the White House, and a bipartisan chorus of more than 100 members of Congress have called for the ouster of the embattled official.
Shinseki responded to the uproar Thursday in an op-ed in USA Today, in which he called the results of an interim report released by the VA Inspector General’s Office “reprehensible” and laid out his plans to help veterans hurt by improper scheduling practices at Phoenix’s VA hospital. Shinseki also met with leaders of 23 military and veterans groups to discuss the report on conditions at the VA and promised to fix the problems.
“We are doing all we can to accelerate access to care throughout our system and in communities where veterans reside,” he wrote in the op-ed.
Shinseki added," Earlier this month, I had also ordered Veterans Health Administration to conduct a nationwide audit of all other major VA health care facilities to ensure understanding of, and compliance with, our appointment policy. More than 200 senior staff are conducting that audit now, and we expect to announce the initial results of that audit in the coming days."
Still, it might be too late for Shinseki, as he has come under increased fire from lawmakers In the wake of the inspector general’s report Wednesday. As of Thursday evening, 11 Democratic senators had called for Shinseki's resignation, with Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu being the latest to weigh in.
In addition to determining that “inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout VHA,” the inspector general's report found that some 1,700 veterans at the Phoenix facility were waiting for care but were not on any official waiting list. An additional 1,400 veterans are already on the system’s waiting list.
House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he is reserving judgment on Shinseki, adding that a change in leadership would not fix problems that have long plagued the VA. “The question I ask myself is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what's really going on, and the answer I keep getting is no.”
The inspector general’s interim report also said that issues with patient wait times are not new. “Since 2005, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued 18 reports that identified, at both the national and local levels, deficiencies in scheduling resulting in lengthy waiting times and the negative impact on patient care.”
Members of Congress grilled VA officials for hours Wednesday evening over a delay in turning over records related to problems at the Phoenix VA. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said that he plans to hound VA officials for information. “Until VA understands that we’re deadly serious, you can expect us to be over your shoulder every day,” he said at the hearing.
Other legislators, including Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democractic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, have called for a criminal investigation into potential fraud at the Phoenix facility and elsewhere.