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Posted at 4:03 p.m. on May 28, 2014
Updated 5:47 p.m. | The snowball of senators and Senate candidates calling for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign turned into an avalanche Wednesday afternoon.
There were also new calls for the FBI to investigate following the release of a devastating audit.
Colorado Democrat Mark Udall tweeted that Shinseki should go just as Arizona’s senators wrapped up a news conference saying the same.
— Mark Udall (@MarkUdall) May 28, 2014
Other Democrats joined in throughout the afternoon Wednesday, including Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
“Secretary Shinseki has served our country honorably over many decades, but in the interest of regaining the trust of our veterans, and implementing real and lasting reforms, I believe it is time for him to step aside and allow new leadership to take the helm at the VA to correct these failings immediately,” Hagan said in a statement.
Rep. Bruce Braley, the Iowa Democrat running for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, issued a similar statement.
Udall followed up on his tweet with a longer release calling for Shinseki to step aside, and Montana Democratic Sen. John Walsh also joined in with a statement.
“The Inspector General’s report confirms the worst of the allegations against the VA and its failure to deliver timely care to veterans. It is time for President Obama to remove Secretary Shinseki from office,” Walsh said.
Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake said Shinseki should leave the VA, with McCain going as far as to say he should be “fired” by President Barack Obama. And both want a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice and the FBI.
The pair were appearing at a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Phoenix after the VA inspector general reported that some 1,700 patients were left of official lists at the VA facility that city.
McCain was appearing on CNN just as the results of the IG investigation became public.
“I haven’t said this before, but I think it’s time for General Shinseki to move on,” McCain said on CNN.
Across the Rotunda, House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., agreed with that sentiment, citing the IG report.
“VA needs a leader who will take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability,” Miller said in a statement. “Sec. Shinseki has proven time and again he is not that leader. That’s why it’s time for him to go.”
The calls are also increasing for the FBI to launch a criminal probe of malfeasance at the VA.
“It obviously calls for immediate action as the report requires. I think also, Wolf, it’s probably about time for the Justice Department to get involved here,” McCain said during the CNN appearance. “If records were falsified and people were denied care and people died, as was the allegation here of 40 people dying while on that mythical list … these are criminal activities that deserve the Justice Department involvement.”
Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas said likewise in a statement.
“Hundreds of our nation’s heroes have disappeared from the appointment books and been denied medical care at the hands of scheming bureaucrats focused on their own financial gain, instead of the health and well-being of America’s veterans,” Cornyn said. “This is a sad day for our nation and the only fitting response in the short-term is for the President to direct the FBI to investigate these reports immediately.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has previously called for the Justice Department’s involvement.
“I really believe that Gen. Shinseki should review, in his own mind, whether he can adequately serve the country carrying out the responsibilities given the things that have happened on his watch,” said McCain.
“If it happened here, tragically, in Phoenix, you cannot believe that this is an isolated case,” McCain said.
McCain reiterated that he planned to unveil new veterans health care legislation when the Senate returns. He’s previously said he was working with GOP Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Richard M. Burr of North Carolina to develop that bill.
Burr, the ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has been enveloped in criticism from a number of veterans service organizations about his recent open letter questioning the priorities of some of those groups.
Shinseki gave no indication that he’s leaving.
“I respect the independent review and recommendations of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) regarding systemic issues with patient scheduling and access. I have reviewed the interim report, and the findings are reprehensible to me, to this Department, and to Veterans. I am directing that the Phoenix VA Health Care System (VAHCS) immediately triage each of the 1,700 Veterans identified by the OIG to bring them timely care,” Shinseki said in a statement. “I have already placed the Phoenix VAHCS leadership on administrative leave, and have directed an independent site team to assess scheduling and administrative practices at the Phoenix VAHCS. This team began their work in April, and we are already taking action on multiple recommendations from this report.”
“We’ve got to give these veterans an opportunity to seek health care where they can get it best and easiest,” McCain said. “That’s got to be a fundamental change in the VA.”
Shinseki also encouraged patience in his statement responding to the IG report.
“It is important to allow OIG’s independent and objective review to proceed until completion. OIG has requested that VA take no additional personnel actions in Phoenix until their review is complete,” Shinseki said.
Humberto Sanchez and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.