In its daily briefing — a question-and-answer session dominated by lengthy discussions on the conflict in Ukraine, abducted Nigerian schoolgirls and the White House climate change report — press secretary Jay Carney offered only a few sentences when asked whether Shinseki’s job was safe.
President Barack Obama takes seriously the allegations that veterans died waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital, Carney said, reiterating that the VA’s inspector general is conducting an independent probe into the allegations.
“The President remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the department and take appropriate action,” Carney said, repeating the White House response this week to two veterans groups’ calls for Shinseki’s ouster.
Pressed on why Shinseki won’t publicly address the issue and whether the White House could urge him to talk, Carney referred a reporter to the VA, “for the secretary’s schedule.”
On Monday, the nation’s largest veteran organization, the American Legion, and another veterans group, Concerned Veterans for America, called for Shinseki’s resignation.
The calls came after months of CNN exclusive reporting on U.S. veterans who have died awaiting care at VA hospitals across the country, including in Phoenix.
“It’s not something we do lightly. But we do so today because it is our responsibility as advocate for the men and women who have worn this nation’s uniform,” said Daniel M. Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion.
Added Pete Hegseth, CEO of the Concerned Veterans of America, in a statement:
“We’re proud to stand with The American Legion as they take this courageous and historic stand. As America’s largest veterans organization, their moral authority on this issue is unimpeachable. We applaud their demands for accountability at the very top of the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Responding to the American Legion statement, VA spokesman Drew Brookie replied, “Secretary Shinseki has dedicated his life to his fellow veterans, and nobody is more committed to completing the work that lies ahead. … As the secretary says, providing veterans the quality care and benefits they have earned through their service is our only mission at VA.”
CNN has been reporting on delays in care and patient deaths at VA hospitals for the past six months, including at hospitals in South Carolina, Georgia and Texas.
After CNN’s coverage, the VA acknowledged in April that 23 veterans had died as a result of delayed care in recent years, but sources tell CNN that number could be much higher.
In an exclusive report two weeks ago, CNN interviewed a retired VA doctor from Phoenix who charged that more than 40 American veterans have died waiting for care at the VA hospital there.
Throughout the network’s reporting, CNN has submitted numerous requests for an interview with Shinseki, but in the six months that CNN has been reporting on the delays, Shinseki has not publicly spoken about the issue.
CNN is not alone in getting virtually no response from VA officials.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, issued this statement late Monday:
“For nearly a year, we have been pleading with top department leaders and President Obama to take immediate steps to stop the growing pattern of preventable veteran deaths and hold accountable any and all VA employees who have allowed patients to slip through the cracks.
“In response, we’ve received disturbing silence from the White House and one excuse after another from VA.”
Brookie’s statement, released by the VA late Monday, read:
“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) takes any allegations about patient care or employee misconduct very seriously. If the VA Office of Inspector General’s investigation substantiates allegations of employee misconduct, swift and appropriate action will be taken. Veterans deserve to have full faith in their VA care.
“Under the leadership of Secretary Shinseki and his team, VA has made strong progress in recent years to better serve veterans both now and in the future. The secretary knows there is more work to do.”
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