BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – With growing criticism of medical care given veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs now turning into a national scandal, President Obama says he is taking swift action to get to the truth, and if any wrongdoing is uncovered it will be punished.
The VA’s Office of Inspector General has expanded its investigation to 26 medical facilities, triggered by claims that as many as 40 veterans have died while waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix.
Critics claim the hospital kept two sets of records, one of them documenting patients were scheduled and cared for in a timely manner, but possibly untrue.
“So when I hear allegations of misconduct, any misconduct, whether it is allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books,” proclaimed the President, “I will not stand for it.”
Mr. Obama re-affirmed his confidence in Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, in a nationally-televised news conference at the White House, despite calls for Shinseki’s resignation.
In the face of this criticism, Shinseki ordered audits of every VA medical facility in the country, last week, including the VA here in Buffalo, which was one of the first to be audited.
There has been some criticism of operations here, but the Inspector General has not indicated whether the Buffalo VA is among the 26 getting extra scrutiny.
“Our veterans deserve to know the facts. Their families deserve to know the facts,” said the President. “Once we know the facts, I assure you, if there is misconduct it will be punished.”
President Obama is also dispatching Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to the Phoenix VA Medical Center, to assist in the investigation there. But Senate Republicans say the President’s actions may be too little too late.
“This is unconscionable that this would continue,” charged North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, “It is not something that veterans deserve for us to wait until August or later for the Inspector General to finish the Phoenix report.”
South Dakota Senator John Thune who has been urging Shinseki’s ouster, called the President’s handling of the VA scandal, “a national embarrassment, and the President’s response to it is an embarrassment.”
Administration officials have said, VA Secretary Shinseki has limited authority to discipline top managers in his department, so Congress is crafting a bill giving Shinseki the power to fire those at the top who are not getting the job done.