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Republicans shift criticism from VA to White House

May. 29, 2014 - 03:15PM   |  
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As public frustration with the veteran care delay scandals grows, Republican leaders are slowly shifting their focus from the Veterans Affairs Department to the White House, asking why the administration has allowed the problem to get so bad.

Already at least one-fifth of Congress has called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, including Democrats in a number of difficult fall re-election campaigns. Many declined to attack Shinseki directly, but instead maintain that a change in leadership is needed to preserve confidence in the department.

On Wednesday, the VA inspector general acknowledged the investigation into care delay problems — which began with allegations of secret waiting lists and possible patient deaths at the Phoenix VA Health System — has broadened to include more than 40 department facilities.

A preliminary IG report also found evidence that wait times were manipulated to help administrators get bonuses. Shinseki called the findings “reprehensible,” but that response did little to calm critics’ complaints of a broken culture at the department.

A week earlier, President Obama publicly defended Shinseki, insisting he was the right person to fix the problems. Behind the scenes, White House officials told reporters that Shinseki is closely tracking his response.

Amid that controversy, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Thursday declined to demand Shinseki’s ouster and instead aimed his criticism at the White House. He blamed the president for abandoning veterans by not providing enough attention to the department’s problems.

Firing Shinseki, he said, would not fix the problems higher up the chain. Other House Republicans, already critical of the president, followed suit.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said fixing the VA isn’t a partisan issue but also noted that the department’s problems run deeper than its current management. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said White House officials haven’t shown enough urgency, given the seriousness of the problems.

Regardless of Shinseki’s fate, the issue is likely to linger all summer. The inspector general’s final report on the Phoenix issue isn’t expected until August. Both the House and Senate plan to debate new legislation protecting VA patients and penalizing VA employees in coming weeks.

Following the inspector general’s interim report, officials from Concerned Veterans For America — conservative critics of the administration — announced they had launched ad campaigns against several Senate Democrats questioning their focus on the VA problems.

White House officials have repeatedly pushed back against the idea that veterans issues have been overlooked, pointing out the department’s increased funding during Obama’s presidency and support for the Joining Forces campaign.

On Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said administration officials understand lawmakers are “disturbed and troubled” by the care delay allegations, but declined to respond to questions about whether the issue could hurt vulnerable Democrats in November.

“We all should be concerned about the benefits being provided to our veterans, and making sure they’re getting they health care they deserve,” he said.

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