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Posted at 3:57 p.m. on May 6, 2014
Top Senate Republicans are calling for new leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“A change in leadership might be a good step in the right direction,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters in response to a question about whether he supports calls for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas has called for Shinseki to resign.
“I agree with the American Legion that General Shinseki’s time as Secretary of Veterans Affairs has come to an end, and he needs to step down,” Cornyn said. “The president needs to find a new leader to lead this organization out of the wilderness, and back to providing the service our veterans deserve.”
Cornyn was echoing floor remarks from GOP Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who earlier in the day became the first lawmaker in the chamber to call for Shinseki to be replaced.
“Veterans are waiting for action and yet the VA continues to operate in the same old bureaucratic fashion, settling for mediocrity and continued disservice to our nation’s heroes,” Moran said. “There’s a difference in wanting change and leading it to happen. Today I am demanding accountability and true transformation within the VA system in its culture from top to bottom and all across the country. Secretary Shinseki is seemingly unwilling or unable to do so and change must be made at the top. I ask the Secretary to submit his resignation and I ask President Obama to accept that resignation.”
Cornyn said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., should call for hearings on the alleged misconduct at VA facilities, including one in Phoenix, Ariz.
“We need a point person, appointed by the White House to get to the bottom of this, and we need the majority leader to hold emergency committee meetings to get to the bottom of this and to stop it, as soon as possible,” Cornyn said.
McConnell noted that the VA has yet to break ground on a new facility in his hometown of Louisville.
Reid responded to the Republican complaints by saying talk of a departure is premature. “This is the same guy that was ordered to step down [from the U.S. Army] when he said we would need more troops in Iraq. He was fired there. He is a fine man. He’s a disabled veteran from the Vietnam conflict,” Reid said. “The issue that came up in Phoenix, these are allegations and there will be a complete investigation of that that’s gone on.
“Certainly it doesn’t call for the general to resign. He’s been given a tremendous burden,” Reid added. “We have millions of veterans who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., has encouraged patience.
“Serious allegations have been made regarding waiting lists at the Phoenix VA. Secretary Shinseki has done the right thing by calling for an immediate investigation of those allegations by the independent Office of Inspector General. I have promised to hold hearings on this issue as soon as we have the facts,” Sanders said in a statement on Monday evening. “While it might be temporarily satisfying to call for firing someone, it doesn’t get us any closer to the truth or solve problems that may exist.”
The White House on Monday said that the president is confident in Shinseki’s leadership.