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Embattled VA Secretary Shinseki refusing to resign

By Pauline Jelinek

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:03 a.m. HST, May 08, 2014

WASHINGTON >> A House committee voted Thursday to subpoena records relating to a waiting list at the Phoenix veterans hospital, and officials said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki had ordered a nationwide audit of access to care that the agency provides.

Meanwhile, Shinseki brushed aside calls for his resignation and got an unexpected political lifeline from House Speaker John Boehner following reports that 40 patients died because of delayed treatment at an agency hospital.

The American Legion and some in Congress have called for Shinseki's ouster following allegations of patient deaths at the Phoenix VA hospital due to delays in care and of a secret list the hospital kept of patients waiting for appointments to hide the delays.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously to subpoena all emails and other records in which Shinseki and other VA officials may have discussed destruction of what the committee called "an alternate or interim waitlist" for veterans seeking care in Phoenix.

A top VA official had told congressional staff last month that the "secret list" referred to in news reports may have been an "interim list" created by the hospital. And the committee had asked the VA on May 1 to answer why it was created, when it was destroyed, who authorized destruction and under what authority.

Shinseki answered in a letter Wednesday that VA employees used "transitory or interim notes ... for reference purposes" as they were moving information to the new electronic waitlist system. Regulations of the National Archives and Records Administration require that such notes be destroyed when they are no longer needed for reference, the VA says.

Dissatisfied with that response, the committee subpoenaed all documents relating to the destruction and gave Shinseki until 9 a.m. May 19 to produce them. The VA said in a statement that it will review the subpoena and respond.

Earlier Thursday, Shinseki told CBS that he sent inspectors to Phoenix immediately after he learned of reports about the deaths. "I take every one of these incidents and allegations seriously, and we're going to go and investigate," he said.

The VA also announced Thursday that Shinseki in recent days had ordered the Veterans Health Administration to do "a face-to-face" audit over the next several weeks at all clinics at VA medical centers to make sure employees understand VA's policy and the need for continued integrity in managing patient access to care.

And at a Capitol Hill news conference, Boehner, R-Ohio, said: "I'm not ready to join the chorus of people calling on him to step down." He added that there is a "systemic management issue throughout the VA that needs to be addressed."

Shinseki announced last week that three officials at the Phoenix facility have been placed on leave while the VA inspector general investigates.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has long had a seemingly endless backlog and exceedingly long delays for treatment.

Boehner said the House is working on legislation that would give the head of the agency "more flexibility to fire people."

The White House has voiced support for Shinseki amid the calls for his ouster from the American Legion as well as from Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Jerry Moran of Kansas. Veterans groups are split on whether he should resign.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama has full confidence in Shinseki. He said Shinseki shares the president's passion for living up to the commitment that the U.S. has made to its veterans.

Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama in California that the VA has made tremendous progress in reducing the case backlog. He said while the backlog is moving in the right direction, the White House won't be satisfied until it is eliminated.

The VA has acknowledged that 23 patients have died as a result of delayed care in recent years. The VA's Office of Medical Inspector said clerks at a Fort Collins, Colorado, clinic were instructed last year on how to falsify appointment records. Other problems have occurred in Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia.


Associated Press writers David Espo in Washington and Jim Kuhnhenn in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


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false wrote:
I'm sure General Shinseki has used the military phrase, "lost of confidence" to relieve officers under his command. General Shinseki may have served the Army well, but managing the VA is over his head and he relied on his experience of running the Army and applied that principle to the VA. Totally wrong! During his tenure at VA he was often hobnobbing from one gala reception to another instead of focusing on the oversight VA. He has been called before Congress several times to explain VA's backlog of claims which is still backlogged for years. He is unresponsive to communications from Veterans. He has a website that is so difficult to navigate and I bet he hasn't done it himself. Yes, General Shinseki, you have earned, " Lack of Confidence".
on May 8,2014 | 07:38AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Shinseki is as well qualified, if not more so, to run the VA than all VA Secretaries before him. Yes, VA is overwhelmed with a backlog of claims, but why is that? For one thing, VA originally was established for veterans with service connected injuries and diseases only. Congress changed that in the 1980s or early 1990s by allowing any honorable discharged veteran to use VA facilities. Then, under pressure from Congress, VA began treating and financially compensating who claimed their diseases were caused by exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, this despite the scientific community saying there was no credible evidence to link any disease to Agent Orange. VA calls them presumptive diseases. And then there is PTSD, which many veterans of the Vietnam War claim they have and which just about every veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to have, perhaps because they can be compensated financially if so diagnosed by VA. It is not a matter of the flood gates being opened; it is a matter of the entire dam bursting. It is mission impossible for any VA Secretary.
on May 8,2014 | 09:50AM
lee1957 wrote:
Read your first sentence and then read your last. If the mission is impossible, how does one become well qualified to lead it? It sounds like a Dilbert cartoon.
on May 8,2014 | 11:26AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Read it again. False said Shinseki is in over his head. I did not say Shinseki was well qualified to run VA; I said he was as well qualified to lead VA as his predecessors, who also may have been in over their heads but were fortunate enough to escape scandals.
on May 8,2014 | 11:43AM
localguy wrote:
false - Ok, lets use your logic to review our US senate and congress, both organizations with in the gutter ratings and performance completely due to willful incompetence from every member. I think you would agree, losers like Boehner, McConnell, McCain, Pelosi, and everyone else has earned the title, "Lack of confidence." They can't pass a budget on time to standard, can't pass bills, total gridlock. Do you not agree the standard should apply to everyone in government, all members of the US Senate and House should resign? Good for the goose, good for the gander.
on May 8,2014 | 10:22AM
jayz43 wrote:
Scandals: VA, IRS, EPA, DHL, DOJ, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, Pigford, Sebelius, GSA gone wild, HHS/Obamacare, ad nauseam. Where does the buck stop for inept leadership?!
on May 8,2014 | 12:22PM
downtown wrote:
He ain't finished fixing that broken agency. He needs to stay.
on May 8,2014 | 07:57AM
Charliegrunt wrote:
There definitely has been a "lost of confidence" with GEN Shinseki among veterans. Yet there are many facets to this issue and Congress must accept part of the blame. First, the poor service to veterans and the mockery it makes of Lincoln's words, "...to care for he who has borne the battle, his widow and his orphan..", which should be their mission statement, has been going on for decades if not a century. Remember the veterans march after WW I? Second, it takes almost an Act of God to fire a federal civil service worker, even though they violate the VA's own regulations and guidance. If GEN Shinseki is going to go and investigate all the travesties caused by his department, he will need a division of investigators. Talk is cheap GEN, show us! How about starting with Agent Orange claims, where our government poisoned us and refuses to own up, despite having it spelled out in the Zumwalt 1990 Report?
on May 8,2014 | 08:34AM
localguy wrote:
Also a serious loss of confidence between the American people and their elected reps in the US Senate and Congress. For years these two bureaucratic gangs have willfully failed to do their job, can't pass a budget, can't pass bills, were directly responsible for the New England Compounding medical fiasco, and still they are in office asking for a massive pay raise. If anyone needs to resign, it is the US senate and congress. Clearly a house of fools.
on May 8,2014 | 10:26AM
serious wrote:
I have blogged this before, the system is broken and redundant. Been to the VA next to Tripler??? Same building--why have two labs? Two pharmacies? Two of everything. AND, there should be some cutoff on benefits. I know several people who served two years in the Army and get COMPLETE medical are at the VA--nothing is "service related"!! They are taking the time and space the legitimate veterans could use. ME, I just passed one year waiting for an appointment for a service connected ailment!!
on May 8,2014 | 09:51AM
localguy wrote:
seriouis - Uhhh, can you say two completely different sources of funding as directed by our acutely dysfunctional US Senate and Congress. Congress, same org that is driving the USPS into the ground, can't do their job. Not the VA or DoD's fault. Can only do what congress lets them. Oh, they do have the ability to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for the lowest cost drugs. A feature congress blocked medicare from thanks to kickbacks from the drug companies.
on May 8,2014 | 10:29AM
cojef wrote:
When the American Legion indicate dissatisfaction and no confidence, time to throw the towel in. Better to leave before things turn up worse. Back in the mid '50s after graduating from college under the GI Bill, got awfully sick and availed myself to the VA hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Luckily the hospital was looking for patients and was quickly accepted and treated. Problem was they were reluctant to discharge me from their grasp. Got a complete examination before I was discharged, even a dental examination. Guess I was very lucky.
on May 8,2014 | 10:12AM
localguy wrote:
So funny seeing incompetent Boehner talking about Shinseki as if he knew anything at all. Boehner is just a political hack, no leadership experience, only concerned about photo ops and what is in it for #1. If anyone should resign, it is Boehner. Stupid is as stupid does.
on May 8,2014 | 10:23AM
Maweke wrote:
Give the General all the funds to do the job.
on May 8,2014 | 11:34AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Politically speaking, at this point he have to lean in and take one for the team.
on May 8,2014 | 11:39AM
kolohepalu wrote:
As usual, the right-wing/repub establishment's first instinct is to approach a problem as an excuse to find fault with Obama, or by extension, one of his appointees. Shinseki's credentials are impeccable and he cares about veterans- he is one. The calls for him to step down are from people who care about politics, not veterans.
on May 8,2014 | 03:35PM
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