House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called on President Obama to “take responsibility” for an alleged secret list that officials used to manipulate backlog data at the Veterans Administration, leading to extended wait periods for veterans seeking healthcare and causing at least 23 deaths.
“I will tell you, I am disturbed by statements out of the White House that say that the president heard about this in the news,” Cantor, R-Va., fumed. “It is time for our president to come forward and take responsibility for this and do the right thing by these veterans and begin to show that he actually cares about getting it straight.”
Although White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday that the president learned of the alleged misconduct “through the reports” when news first broke on cable television, Republicans have complained that Obama had consistently ignored warning signs of the misconduct.
The White House says President Obama is “mad as hell” over the allegations, but Carney stressed the president “has confidence” in VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Later this week the House is expected to take a bipartisan vote and pass H.R. 4031, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014, which Cantor said will “try and provide the tools to the administration to hold senior managers accountable.”
“I mean, the American people are frustrated, especially when those who have served our country in uniform have been treated the way they have and, God forbid, who have perished because of the mess at the VA,” Cantor said.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, called the brewing scandal a “cover up” that was “outrageous” and “unacceptable,” although Hoyer said he is “prepared to wait” for the president’s point man probing the issue, Rob Nabors, to report back after conducting his own investigation before he recommends “any further action.”
“Obviously there have been allegations that this was done consciously with intent to obfuscate and hide the facts of the backlog,” Hoyer, D-Md., said. “If that was done, then the responsible persons ought to be held accountable, removed from service with cause and that anybody involved in this cover up should be either disciplined or removed.”
Several Congressional Republicans have called on Shinseki to resign, and one Democrat, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, raised the specter of initiating a criminal investigation. But Hoyer expressed support for the secretary, stressing Shinseki “cares a great deal about veterans.”
The VA Inspector General is currently investigating allegations made by a whistleblower that staff at the Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz., doctored wait time records for patients seeking care to make it appear as though they were complying with the VA’s standard that patients receive care within two to four weeks.
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs unanimously approved a subpoena May 8 covering emails and other written materials from 27 officials, including Shinseki, that address the destruction or disappearance of an alternate or interim wait list at the Phoenix facility.
A GOP aide at the committee said that VA delivered about 200 emails from one official, Dr. Thomas Lynch, Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Health for Clinical Operations and Management.
“VA’s response to the committee’s subpoena is clearly inadequate and makes me suspicious that the department has something to hide,” Miller, R-Fla., wrote in a statement. “Considering the fact that there are supposedly 30 people working on responding to the subpoena and the dearth of information VA provided, I am quickly getting the impression the department does not want to fully cooperate in this matter.”
Miller says he is working with the ranking Democrat, Rep. Michael Michaud, to determine a bipartisan strategy to proceed.