The Georgia state commander of the American Legion said this week that she and members of the national organization’s posts in Augusta and Evans are “very supportive” of the group’s call for the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
Lynne Rollins, a member of Post 45 in Canton, Ga., said the Georgia legion’s support for resignations also extends to Dr. Robert Petzel and Allison Hickey, the VA undersecretaries who oversee health and benefits.
“There are widespread problems across the country within the VA, and their leaders haven’t come forward and said much about what they are going to do to resolve these issues,” she said in a phone interview. “We need somebody who will take action.”
The American Legion’s National Executive Committee met in Indianapolis this week to approve a resolution calling for Shinseki’s, Petzel’s and Hickey’s immediate resignations for “poor oversight and leadership”
in a federal agency that serves more than 20 million veterans.
It was the first time the organization, one of the nation’s oldest and most influential veteran advocacy groups, has sought to oust a public official since 1978. Shinseki, 71, is a retired Army four-star general who has served since 2009.
The American Legion has defended Shinseki before, but in the past four months, 23 preventable deaths have been linked to VA hospitals, mostly because of thousands of delayed endoscopy procedures. This includes three cancer deaths at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta.
Those deaths are in addition to at least 40 veterans who reportedly died in Phoenix while waiting for care on a secret list. Similar allegations have surfaced about facilities in Colorado and Texas.
The commanders of Post 205 on Highland Avenue in Augusta declined to comment or return calls seeking reaction to the Legion’s announcement. Reached by phone Thursday, Evans Post 192 Commander Cecil Holloway said, “We do not comment on political statements, which is what this is.”
Rollins said previous commanders from the
two groups were in Indianapolis this week in support of demands for VA resignations.
Soon after the Legion’s announcement, several leading Republicans, including Sens. Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn and Richard Burr and Rep. Mike Coffman, backed the call for Shinseki’s resignation.
On Thursday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee issued subpoenas for documents and testimony related to the alleged hidden list in Phoenix.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., described the VA’s recent failures as a “crisis” but said he plans to wait to receive more information before calling for personnel changes.
Shinseki, who is expected to testify Thursday before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has placed two top officials at the Phoenix hospital on leave and commissioned a nationwide “face-to-face audit” at VA clinics. President Obama said he remains confident in Shinseki’s ability to do his job.
The Chronicle revealed in March that the Augusta VA’s former chief of staff, Dr. Luke Stapleton, was forced to resign from the position under threat of discipline for the hospital’s botched gastrointestinal unit but remains a paid employee at the medical center.
“Right now, President Obama and Secretary Shinseki are faced with a stark choice: Take immediate action to help us end the culture of complacency that is engulfing the Veterans Health Administration and compromising patient safety, or explain to the American people and America’s veterans why we should tolerate the status quo,” Miller said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., agreed with Miller and said the nationwide review is “welcome but long overdue.”
“It’s important that this review identify the problems at the Charlie Norwood VA and other clinics, but most importantly, it should lay out a plan that ensures it never happens again,” Barrow said. “We owe it to our veterans to get to the bottom of this issue once and for all,
and I’m glad the VA is finally getting serious about this issue.”