EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World/National News

May 26, 2014

Lawmakers call for tighter grip on nation's VA hospitals

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairmen of House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees yesterday decried long waits and backlogs at the nation’s VA hospitals but stopped short of calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

“You’ve got an entrenched bureaucracy that exists out there that is not held accountable, that is shooting for goals, goals that are not helping the veterans,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House panel

“I think some people may by cooking the books” to suggest waiting times are shorter that they actually are, said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who chairs the counterpart Senate committee.

Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the Justice Department “has to be involved.” He said there is “credible and specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing across the country” at VA hospitals.

“We’re not rushing to judgment. But the Department of Justice can convene a grand jury, if necessary,” Blumenthal said.

Lawmakers from both parties have pressed for policy changes and better management as the Department of Veterans Affairs confronts allegations about treatment delays and falsified records at VA centers around the country. The program serves nearly 9 million veterans.

President Barack Obama did not mention the VA issue in a speech on Sunday to U.S. troops in Afghanistan during a surprise visit.

“The VA really didn’t factor into the planning for the trip at all,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser. “The VA is obviously something he’s going to continue to work on very hard in the coming days and weeks back home as well.”

Meanwhile, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a pre-recorded interview broadcast Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” called the VA’s current problems “outrageous — if the allegations are documented and proven. And I suspect some of them will be.”

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