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February 6, 2016

In VA Scandal Fallout, Disabled American Veterans ‘Outraged’ at Burr, Blames Congress for Lack of Funding

Richard Burr VA Secretary Eric Shinseki DAV Veterans

Burr, left, is under fire for suggesting leaders of veterans groups care more about access to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki than they do about veterans after not calling for a change in leadership in the VA scandal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Richard Burr’s statement ripping the leaders of veterans’ groups Friday has sparked a second letter of outrage, this time from Disabled American Veterans, in the latest fallout from the VA scandal.

After the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) torched Burr, R-N.C., Saturday for a “monumental cheap-shot,” DAV National Commander Joseph W. Johnston issued a statement of his own.

Johnston defended his and other groups’ decision not to join the American Legion’s calls for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, and blamed a lack of funding from Congress for much of the VA’s troubles.

“If Senator Burr believes that calling for the resignation of Secretary Shinseki is the only measure of whether a leader cares about veterans, perhaps he should check with Speaker Boehner, Chairman Miller and numerous Republican Senate colleagues who have not yet done so,” Johnston wrote.

Burr dismissed the criticism in a statement later Sunday, suggesting that groups were more outraged by his letter than they were by the VA scandal.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, is one of Burr’s best friends. He said last week he was getting “closer” to calling for Shinseki’s resignation.

The blistering VFW letter and Burr’s original letter are posted here.

The full DAV statement:

DAV is outraged that North Carolina’s Senator Richard Burr chose the eve of Memorial Day weekend – a sacred time to remember and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation — to attack the patriotism of leaders of most of the nation’s leading veterans service organizations.

Last week at a hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, DAV and other veteran service organizations offered comprehensive testimony on the underlying causes of the waiting list problems afflicting VA health care facilities that are currently under investigation. In addition to demanding full accountability for anyone found to have violated VA rules, regulations or laws, we provided detailed analysis and forward-looking recommendations to address the root cause of waiting lists: lack of access and capacity to treat all veterans seeking care.

Although Senator Burr attended much of that hearing, apparently all he wanted to hear were calls for the VA Secretary to resign. Senator Burr may be enamored with the idea that all of VA’s problems and challenges can be overcome by replacing one Secretary, but the plain facts and simple logic indicate otherwise. If Senator Burr believes that calling for the resignation of Secretary Shinseki is the only measure of whether a leader cares about veterans, perhaps he should check with Speaker Boehner, Chairman Miller and numerous Republican Senate colleagues who have not yet done so.

Regrettably, Senator Burr shows no interest in pursuing serious policy solutions, preferring instead to launch cheap political attacks on the integrity of leaders of veterans organizations that do not agree with him, all of whom served honorably to defend this nation and then devoted all or most of their lives to serving their fellow veterans.

In spite of Senator Burr’s attacks, we will continue to call for an open and comprehensive investigation in Phoenix and at any other VA facility where wrongdoings are alleged. While Senator Burr challenges our integrity, we will continue to demand full accountability for all who violated the public trust, regardless of who or where they are, including criminal prosecution if warranted. While Senator Burr ignores VA’s real challenges, we will continue to call for an independent review not just of VA’s wait list and scheduling problems, but the access and capacity deficits that created them.

History clearly shows that unless VA receives sufficient resources to hire enough doctors and nurses, and has enough physical space to treat veterans, waiting list problems will continue. Over the past decade, DAV – along with many of our veteran service organization partners – have pointed out that the VA has received more than $17 billion less than was needed, a figure that is primarily derived from VA’s own internal analysis. Although these facts have been clear to successive Administrations and Congresses – including Senator Burr – none took the actions necessary to provide VA the resources it requires.

Rather than be distracted by Senator Burr’s hollow insults, we will continue to reach out to thoughtful Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House, as well as the President and leaders in VA, to join with us in taking an honest look at all the facts, to discuss with us all possible remedies and reforms and to work with us to implement solutions that truly honor the heroism of the men and women we remember this Memorial Day weekend.

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