Washington Senator Patty Murray took Eric Shinseki to task Thursday on Capitol Hill. The Veterans Affairs secretary is under fire over reports of widespread treatment delays for veterans and allegations of a cover up.
An Army veteran himself, Shinseki is now at the center of a different battle.
“Makes me mad as hell,” Shinseki said.
On Thursday members of the Veterans Affairs Committee scolded Shinseki, including Senator Murray.
“I am very frustrated to be here once again,” said Muray. Tired, she said, of waiting for wait times to improve. “The department has repeatedly failed to address wait times for healthcare.”
But did those wait times result in the deaths of as many as 40 veterans seeking care at the Phoenix VA hospital? That was at the heart of Thursday’s hearing, as well as accusations the backlog was covered up.
“Are people ‘cooking the books’?” inquired Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“I’m not aware in other than isolated cases,” Shinseki answered.
Also at the hearing was the acting inspector general, who testified backlogs were not a factor in the first 17 deaths he’s investigated.
“It’s one thing to be on a waiting list,” explained Richard Griffin, “and it’s another thing to conclude that, as a result of being on a waiting list, is a cause of death.”
An audit is underway of all VA facilities, including Seattle, to see how they provide access to care. Veterans who testified Thursday said it’s a systemwide problem.
“The wait times are far too long and the idea that we have veterans personnel fudging the numbers, cooking the books,” said veteran Nick McCormick.
Sen. Murray told Shinseki this is yet another wake-up call to restore veterans’ confidence in the VA.
“The standard practice at the VA seems to be to hide the truth in order to look good,” Murray said.
Shinseki says he takes full responsibility, but has resisted calls for his resignation.
“Senator, if there’s anything that gets me angrier than just hearing allegations is to hear you tell me that we have folks who can’t be truthful because they think the system doesn’t allow it,” said Shinseki.
The president has assigned a top aide to oversee the VA investigation.