Rep. Joe Wilson, the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, sent a letter this week to President Obama requesting that Shinseki be removed immediately.
The letter was mailed in response to an interim report issued Wednesday by the VA’s inspector general. It released preliminary findings of an investigation into allegations of secret waiting lists and falsified records at the Phoenix VA hospital and whether they are a departmentwide problem.
The probe confirmed the accusations and found that such problems are “systemic” throughout the VA. Investigators said they are now looking into 42 medical facilities in connection with health care delays, up sharply from 26 last week and 10 the week before that.
“The Administration’s inability to provide services to our veterans is inexcusable,” said Wilson, a South Carolina Republican who represents much of the Aiken area, said in a statement. “When President Obama campaigned for the White House, he claimed a desire to help our heroes receive the care they deserve and earned while fighting for our freedoms. Sadly, throughout the last few years the Department of Veterans Affairs has become riddled with scandal, neglect, and incompetence under Secretary Eric Shinseki’s mismanagement. The only way to move forward is to appoint a new Secretary in hopes of restoring faith to our veterans, military families, and the American people.”
The 35-page report stated that 1,700 veterans who are patients at the Phoenix hospital are not on any official list awaiting appointments, even though they need to see doctors. Investigators found that 1,138 veterans in Phoenix had been waiting longer than six months just to get an appointment to see their primary doctors.
A former doctor who broke the case as a whistleblower said 40 veterans died from the delays.
The inspector general has not confirmed deaths, and Cathy Gomek, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the office is “not disclosing” which VA facilities it is investigating. Pete Scovill, spokesman for the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, said the Augusta hospital is not linked to the Phoenix investigation.
As news of the findings broke, the number of lawmakers calling on Shinseki to step down totaled 37 in the House, including 11 Democrats; and a dozen senators, among them four Democrats, according to data collected by Military Times.
U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., called for Shinseki’s resignation last week. U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, joined the issue this week, saying it’s time for Shinseki to go.
“As complaints, illnesses, and deaths that are a result of inadequate care are brought to light on a daily basis, wasting precious time is not an option,” Wilson said. “We must take immediate action to ensure the issues with the VA are resolved as quickly as possible with effective leadership.”