Blumenthal asks VA chief to consider calling in FBI and firing staff
Washington – Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Thursday pressed Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to call in the FBI to determine whether crimes were committed at his agency, now accused of falsifying reports on delays of care that may have caused the deaths of some veterans.
“Let me raise the elephant in the room,” Blumenthal said. “Isn’t there evidence here of criminal wrongdoing, that is false statements, false records…?”
Shinseki told members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee allegations of treatment delays and cover-ups at VA medical centers make him “mad as hell.”
He said he has begun an audit of VA facilities. There is also an independent inspector general investigation of the allegations.
Blumenthal pressed Shinseki to ask the FBI “or some other federal agency” to help the inspector general.
“It’s your responsibility to make that judgment about the IG’s resources … and to involve the appropriate criminal investigative agencies if there is evidence of criminality and in my judgment there is more than enough reason to involve other investigative agencies,” Blumenthal said.
Shinseki responded that he “will work with the IG to make that is available to him if that’s his request.”
Blumenthal also asked Shinseki “will you change your management team?”
“Perhaps,” the VA chief responded. “I’m still waiting for the results of the audit.”’
Shinseki told Blumenthal the audit report is likely to be released in three weeks.
Shinseki faced tough questioning by nearly every member of the panel, who asked about recent allegations that VA health clinics in Phoenix and Fort Collins, Colo., used elaborate schemes to hide records of patients who waited too long for care that meets the department’s goals.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. said there were allegations that 40 veterans in Phoenix died because of a lack of care.
“No one should be treated this way in a country as great as ours,” McCain said. “We should all be ashamed.”
The American Legion – and some lawmakers – have called for Shinseki’s resignation.
But Shinseki told members of Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee he intends to stay on the job.
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