Shinseki spoke privately with lawmakers and met with nearly two dozen veterans groups, assuring them he takes the reports seriously and is moving swiftly to fix problems. Today, he is set to address the National Coalition on Homeless Veterans, outlining his plans for corrections.
A federal investigation of operations in the troubled Phoenix VA Health Care System found about 1,700 veterans in need of care were “at risk of being lost or forgotten” after being kept off an official waiting list. While initially focused on Phoenix, the investigation described Wednesday by the VA Department’s inspector general found broad and deep-seated problems in the sprawling health care system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.
The interim report confirmed earlier allegations of excessive waiting times for care in Phoenix, with an average 115-day wait for a first appointment for those on the waiting list — nearly five times as long as the 24-day average the hospital originally reported.
House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said they were reserving judgment about Shinseki. But with the situation threatening to affect congressional elections in November, the chorus of lawmakers calling for his departure grew by the hour.
Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and New Mexico’s Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich all urged Shinseki to step aside. Eleven Senate Democrats have called for Shinseki’s resignation since Wednesday, when the VA inspector general report came out. All but Heinrich are on the ballot this fall.
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to say whether President Barack Obama still has full confidence in Shinseki, who has led the VA since the start of the Obama administration. The president is waiting for a full investigation into the VA before deciding who should be held accountable, Carney said.
Rep. Steve Israel, the New York Democrat who chairs the party’s campaign committee in the House, called for a criminal investigation of the department by the Justice Department and said of Shinseki, “If his resignation is what it takes to fix the problem, then yes, he should resign.”
And Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said he respects Shinseki, a former four-star Army general who served in Vietnam, but the IG’s report “does really move us closer to that point where we have to question his leadership.” He said, “If this is what I think it is, it could mean we need new leadership.”
The American Legion and dozens of Republicans have called for Shinseki to resign, including Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Richard Burr of North Carolina, senior Republican on the Senate veterans panel. Arizona’s two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, also have called for Shinseki to step down.
The congressional calls for Shinseki’s resignation were mixed with criticism of a bonus system at the VA rewarding officials for meeting performance targets proving to be unreasonable, including a maximum two-week waiting period for first-time appointments.