Miller: VA issues ‘much larger’ than Shinseki
(CNN) — Congressional chairmen of the House and Senate veterans affairs committees are still backing embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, for now, amid a growing chorus of lawmakers calling for his resignation over the scandal that’s rocked the agency.
Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican from Florida and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday that the issues with the VA are “much larger than the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
“You’ve got an entrenched bureaucracy that exists out there that is not held accountable, that is shooting for goals, goals that are not helping the veterans.”
With reports of excessive, long waits for medical care for veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, a handful of lawmakers are calling for Shinseki’s resignation over the agency’s apparent mismanagement.
Last week, the VA’s Office of Inspector General said it was investigating 26 agency facilities over allegations of doctored waiting times, and Miller said his group has received information “that will make what has already come out look like kindergarten stuff.”
Still, the Florida Republican said, until his committee receives a final report about what Shinseki knew of the ongoing issues in the agency and when, it would be premature to ask him to step down.
Miller’s counterpart in the Senate, Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, said Shinseki undoubtedly could have done more to fix the problems, but he also praised aspects of the VA chief’s tenure.
Issues have dogged the agency for decades, and Sanders said the current problems at the VA go beyond accountability.
“The other area that we have to talk about is that 2 million new veterans coming in in the last few years,” he said. “Do we have the staff in all areas of this country to accommodate the needs of those veterans? Frankly, between you and me, I’m not sure that we do.”
So if Shinseki isn’t totally to blame for the VA’s failings, where’s the oversight?
“We have 118 outstanding requests right now at the Department of Veterans Affairs in regards to oversight that they will not answer,” Miller said, adding that his committee has issued subpoenas for people involved to appear before his committee next week.
The scandal has not only rocked the VA but it’s also placed the spotlight of scrutiny on the Obama administration.
In his weekly address on Saturday, President Barack Obama called caring for the nation’s veterans a “sacred obligation.” And asked last week if Shinseki should step aside, Obama said he needed more information but promised accountability if assertions prove true.
Shinseki says he has no plans to step down, citing an ongoing internal review and an independent probe by the VA Inspector General’s Office.
By Dana Davidsen