Lawmakers Subpoena Docs From VA Secretary to Probe Death of Veterans
The House Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously today to subpoena documents from the Department of Veterans Affairs, including Secretary Eric Shinseki, over allegations of widespread misconduct at a Phoenix veterans medical center that may have led to the deaths of up to 40 U.S. veterans.
Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the committee, signed the subpoena to compel several senior officials at the VA to provide any emails and written correspondence pertaining to the destruction of a document regarding unofficial wait lists.
"It's unfortunate that we have to come to this decision, but we did not do this without some substantial justification," Miller, R-Fla., said during the brief hearing. "The last few weeks have been a model of VA stonewalling, which precipitated the need for this subpoena."Miller wrote Shinseki May 1, requesting that he meet a May 7 deadline to provide his panel with documents that were revealed during a congressional briefing April 24, when Dr. Thomas Lynch, the VA's assistant deputy under-secretary for health for clinical operations within the Veterans Health Administration, referenced an "interim list" that could be a "secret" list that whistleblowers alleged was used by the hospital to manipulate wait-time data.
"It's a historic vote," Miller added. "I trust the VA will have the good sense to not further ignore the requests that this committee has made."
The motion for the issuance of the subpoena passed without objection by voice vote.
Shinseki has spurned calls to resign from the American Legion and some members of Congress, insisting he serves at the pleasure of President Obama.
Today, Speaker Boehner stopped short of calling on Shinseki to resign, describing problems at the VA as "systemic."
"I'm not ready to join the chorus of people calling for him to step down," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at the Capitol today. "There's a systemic management issue throughout the VA that needs to be addressed and I don't believe that just changing someone at the top is going to actually get to the solutions that many of us are looking for."
The top Republican and Democrat on the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations - Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., recently announced that they will hold hearings on the Phoenix VA allegations after the Office of Inspector General completes its own investigation. Coffman is among the legislators calling on Shinseki to step down.
The VA says it will conduct a nationwide access review, the purpose of which is to ensure its employees have a full understanding of its policy and "continued integrity in managing patient access to care."
The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs announced today it will hold a hearing examining the subject on May 15. Shinseki is among the witnesses expected to testify.