Washington – Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, on Thursday became the first member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation to call for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the embattled secretary of Veterans Affairs.
“I am outraged by reports of delayed care and falsified records at VA facilities in Arizona,” Himes said in a statement. “I am equally appalled that dozens of other VA clinics are now under investigation for the same. Anyone at the VA who participated in or was aware of this gross mismanagement must be held accountable, without exception.”
Himes said Shinseki was not responsible for the scandal at the VA, “but when something goes wrong, the commander is responsible.”
Himes joins a growing list of lawmakers asking for Shinseki’s resignation for the fall campaign. Most of the Democratic lawmakers on that list are facing tough re-election races this year.
The National Republican Congressional Committee challenged Himes a week ago on the issue. The NRCC made a similar dig Thursday at Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, asking, “What is Elizabeth Esty waiting for?”
Esty on Thursday said she is “deeply concerned about the widespread delays and falsified wait lists at VA medical facilities, which may have resulted in the deaths of up to 40 veterans who were waiting for treatment in Arizona.”
“This is unacceptable and needs to be addressed swiftly and effectively,” Esty said.
While Esty said “any manager who is contributing to a climate of neglect at VA medical facilities must be held accountable,” she did not call for Shinseki’s resignation.
Nor did Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, who said he met with a veterans advisory council and “they did not want to see the Secretary’s resignation become a political football.”
“Rather, they called for people to come together to find solutions and believe Secretary Shinseki is the best person to help move things forward at this time,”Larson said. ” I stand with them on this issue and will continue to concentrate my efforts on ensuring our veterans are getting the care they deserve.”
Larson also said he plans to introduce legislation that would allow veterans to use their existing VA coverage at a non-VA facility if their wait times exceed an appropriate limit.
In asking for the resignation, Himes also split from Connecticut’s senators who have been critical of the VA and asked for a result of a nationwide survey of VA hospitals, but stopped short of demanding Shinseki’s resignation.
“There are big problems at the VA, and I’ve made it clear that I expect them to follow through on plans to continue to reduce wait times and address reports of fraud in local VA facilities,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Thurday. “Right now our sole focus should be on fixing those problems to better serve our veterans.”
Murphy also said “the good news” is that a recent audit of Connecticut’s VA facilities “showed that our state uses best practices and generally has wait times for care that are within acceptable standards.”
“Connecticut’s VA can always be better, but compared to VAs in other parts of the country, ours is on the right track,” Murphy said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said an inspector general’s report released Wednesday “ is staggering in the scope and scale of fraudulent scheduling schemes that denied veterans the medical care they need and deserve.”
Blumenthal repeated his call for a criminal investigation of the scandal, but did not call for Shinseki’s resignation.
The inspector general substantiated allegations that VA health clinics used inappropriate scheduling practices that concealed treatment delays — lasting an average of 115 days in a sampling of patients.
The delays could have led to the deaths of some veterans.
The IG report also determined VA officials boosted performance measures that help determine the awarding of bonuses.
The report focused largely on the practices of a clinic in Phoenix, but said inappropriate scheduling practices are “systemic” throughout the VA.