Support for Shinseki falters among US congressional Democrats
By Matthew Daly, AP
May 31, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
WASHINGTON--Support for embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki eroded quickly Thursday, especially among congressional Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns, even as Shinseki continued to fight for his job amid allegations of delayed medical care and misconduct at VA facilities nationwide.
Shinseki spoke privately with lawmakers and met with nearly two dozen veterans groups, assuring them that he takes the reports seriously and is moving swiftly to fix problems. On Friday, he is to address the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, outlining his plans for corrections.
A federal investigation of operations in the troubled Phoenix VA Health Care System found that 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 had 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.
Democrats Join Chorus
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 Kaine and 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 Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said that while he respects Shinseki, a former four-star Army general who served in Vietnam, the IG's report "does really move us closer to that point where we have to question his leadership."
Durbin told radio station WGLT in Normal, Illinois: "If this is what I think it is, it could mean we need new leadership."