Members of Congress from the Augusta area applauded the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Friday, saying the move was a “critical” first step to rebuilding the VA and restoring faith in the public-run health care system that has been overrun by systemic problems.
Minutes after President Obama announced Shinseki’s departure, Reps. John Barrow, D-Ga. and Joe Wilson, R-S.C., issued statements thanking the secretary for his nearly 50 years of honorable service.The two congressmen called for Shinseki’s resignation in the past week in the wake of secret wait lists, falsified documents, and consultation delays that resulted in deaths not only recently in Phoenix, but also in 2012 in Augusta and Columbia, S.C.
“Unfortunately, these problems are much more serious than we were led to believe, and the only way to move forward is to begin a top-to-bottom rebuilding of the agency,” Barrow said. “You couldn’t find a nicer person or more dedicated public servant than General Eric Shinseki, but this changing of the guard is critical to move the VA forward.”
The Augusta congressman added that he met one-on-one with now Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson last week in his Washington office and found him to be “extremely engaged and rightfully frustrated” at the situation that has unfolded.
“I will remain in contact with Acting Secretary Gibson to ensure that we identify how these problems started, and to ensure that they never happen again,” Barrow said. “We owe that to the veterans who’ve given so much to our country.”
Wilson agreed with Barrow, challenging Obama to live up to the promises he made on the campaign trail in 2008 and “put an end to the delays and denial of services our veterans face each day.”
“The administration should proceed with criminal investigations into the cover-ups that have led to the preventable complaints, illnesses, and deaths that plagued our VA system for years,” Wilson said.
Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, characterized Shinseki as an “honorable man whose dedication to our country is beyond reproach.”
Miller, whose committee was leading investigations in Augusta and Columbia, added that it is unfortunate Shinseki’s tenure at the VA will forever be tainted by a pervasive lack of accountability among poorly performing VA employees and managers, apparent widespread corruption among medical center officials and an unparalleled lack of transparency with Congress, the public and the press.
“Appropriately, Shinseki is taking the brunt of the blame for these problems, but he is not the only one within VA who bears responsibility,” Miller said. “Nearly every member of Shinseki’s inner circle failed him in a major way. ”
Miller said now the 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.
“VA’s problems are deadly serious, and whomever the next secretary may be, they will receive no grace period from America’s veterans, American taxpayers and Congress,” Miller said.