Veterans Affairs Secretary Takes the Stand on Capitol Hill

Eric Shinseki says he is "committed to taking all actions necessary to ... strengthen veterans' trust in VA health care."
9:42 | 05/15/14

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Transcript for Veterans Affairs Secretary Takes the Stand on Capitol Hill
This is a special group. Allegation. Any adverse -- -- -- like this. Makes me as. Makes you mad as hell like that you trauma language sure mister chairman but in deference to the committee won't but at same time of also saddens me. Because I understand that out of those adverse. Events. A veteran of veterans family has dealing and the aftermath and I always try to put myself and their issues. That was veteran affairs secretary air -- -- key Tenet testifying this morning on Capitol Hill. His conquistadors and audience the Senate Armed Services Committee hello everyone I'm Michelle Franzen in New York. In Washington today the retired four star general and former army chief of staff spoke and answered questions about his VA administration. In particular allegations that some forty veterans died while waiting for service. At a medical center in Phoenix last Friday Arizona Senator John McCain. Hosted a town hall for -- vets and their families. Every time my husband reached out to the VA they just kept telling him to be patient -- that took months. For them to see him it took months. Do what you call us back. Action's -- he made reference to the investigation now ongoing there in his opening remarks. And response to allegations about manipulation of appointment scheduling. Phoenix. I'm committed to taking all actions necessary -- -- identify exactly what the issues are. The fix them. And to strengthen the veteran's trust them VA health care. For more on the testimony today we're joined now from the Pentagon by ABC's Louis Martinez -- Give us a little bit more about house secretaries and -- how long has he been in charge of the VA and how -- his relationship with the White House. Well Michelle as Eric Shinseki was one of the very first nominees to -- join the president's cabinet. So about five years ago he was a very popular -- because as you mentioned he was a four star general who was in charge of the army -- -- the army chief of staff. He became famous because he stood up to Donald Rumsfeld about the number of troops it might be needed. For an invasion of Iraq he was seen is the perfect fit someone who knew the mindset of the veterans who are coming home from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Now five years later he finds himself -- battle mainly because of this situation in Phoenix. That VA has a state program in place that they want to -- its veterans go to its medical facilities if they need that medical care. Within two weeks four weeks of setting up an appointment. The allegations are that in Phoenix that didn't happen. That there was a paperwork issue. -- scheme. So that by the employees there so that they can cover up the fact that there -- a longer wait times than that and that is what's prompted this whole crisis. And let's see some senators. Republican senators on this very committee -- testified before today. Calling for his resignation and senator Bernie Sanders asked a number of pointed questions today among them why it took so long for actions to be taken. Especially in Phoenix here's the exchange. The criticism. Is that year after year reports have -- walking about these problems. And the problems continue to exist. Can you give us some assurance of what happens -- -- where do we go from here so that we don't have this hearing. Next the year which -- -- -- sure and I think that's what the the -- -- we've created isn't -- had to do so while the inspector general's looking at Phoenix for a evidence. Employee misconduct. And evidence that. Forty veterans -- parish awaiting. Scheduling. The she is going to get the ball well. Who is leading in the inspector general review or audit and what do officials expect to come of it. Well I should point out that they Brandon Sanders even heard at the top they're asking that question is actually a supporter. -- is thinking but you can hear from his tough questions that this is an issue that is crossing party lines here this is something that is of concern to everybody. Now veteran he is -- talking about is the inspector general's report coming from within. The Veterans Affairs Department every federal department has its own inspector general and -- they are independent from the hierarchy of those departments. So they -- in an independent. A -- that's going on right now. -- while so we should say he has ordered another review -- where he wants to have a face to face meaning not him -- his investigators having. Face to face audits at every VA medical center to see what they are waiting -- programs are like. And last night we got word that the White House what are -- needing further review a broader. A look at how the DEA. Handles its health care and the programs that are in place. That's -- review being led by. Rob nabors who is a deputy White House chief of staff when -- president Obama's closest aides. The Arizona case of course not the isolated one as you mention where else are we hearing from frustrated veterans and their families. Well the key one has been -- in Phoenix but has this story has been out there now for almost a month -- there are further claims that. There was an issue is that the way -- the end VA medical center in Fort Collins, Colorado. Similar claims that they were it's uniform week -- that where the goal that were not being met and that it was fake paperwork that was being submitted. To the headquarters here. At the VA in Washington. The reason that the paperwork is so important is because. The VA medical centers across the country are judged by how well how often. They see their patients -- veterans and so any delays. In May -- in those veterans getting their medical care. -- -- repercussions from here in headquarters. So that's -- we've seen now this audit that is taking place. To see whether in fact this is broader than just Phoenix and in cholera. -- senators of course asking the tough questions but we hear over and over again about the paperwork that the VA is mired in -- paperwork bogged down. It's a possible that no matter who is in charge of the VA no matter what kind of job they are doing that there is to simply not enough -- sources or overhaul. To -- the decade's worth of wounded warriors care. It's a very tough issue Michelle I mean obviously the wars of the last decade have compounded it the already in Veterans Affairs Department was -- got -- paperwork as he said. But one of the biggest backlogs that -- the Veterans Affairs Department has. Had to face over the last couple of years is a backlog and benefits claims this is totally separate from the issue of waiting times for the medical centers. -- in the backlog of returning veterans who submit. They're claims to the -- that they can get disability checks while the average weight right now is five months for those documents to be processed. Than it had been even bigger longer than that. And the number of veterans whose paperwork. Had been back -- numbered almost half a million. The progress that the VA has talked about and -- didn't diminishing that backlog is now that because it's been cut in half but still a long way to go VA has always had a reputation that it to me maybe it's medical care is -- what you would find. In the broader civilian community. But Bernie Sanders -- senator that we just heard about -- he's talked about how it's not just the VA's medical care we need to take a broader look. At that America is -- health care system. On the -- points out that there have been surveys that show that veterans are very satisfied. With their medical care. That are comparable -- -- better than what we see the civilians act and The American Legion along with some Republican senators though have called versions that he's. To leave his post is there any indication that he is considering it or that the White House could replace them. Now you know that the move last nevertheless -- -- -- deputy White House chief of staff to -- That EA. It was kind of actually -- an indicator support. Because they know line you're not hearing anything and the administration side calling for. -- -- resignation he heard from him today. He said that he would want does not want to leave he said that he wants to provide the best care and the best benefits for the soldiers. -- sailors and -- and he went to war with. He says this is not a job for him this is a mission. -- in this is obviously something is very personal for him he himself is a wounded veteran. He -- had a major injury to his leg during the Vietnam War and then continued an -- service rising up. To be army chief of staff so he has a level of commitment he has supporters who are also being critical in the broader sense about the VA. But they don't feel that -- second should be the one removes. You have even a split among different sort -- veterans organizations while The American Legion is calling for his removal. -- the veterans of foreign wars say that they said. -- ABC's Louis Martinez at the Pentagon thank you. This has been an ABC news digital special report keep up with this story in real time. By downloading the ABC news -- starring the story for exclusive updates on ago. For now I'm Michelle Franzen in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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