Bob Dole defends Eric Shinseki
By: Alexander Burns
May 19, 2014 03:53 PM EDT
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole called for a “shakeup” at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Monday, but defended Secretary Eric Shinseki’s leadership at the agency amid reports that VA hospitals have concealed months-long wait lists for veterans seeking care.
Dole, who was the last World War II veteran to be nominated for the presidency in 1996, said in an interview that he “feels strongly that there needs to be a shakeup in the VA.” He declined to join other Republicans who have called on Shinseki, a retired four-star general, to resign.
“He’s a decorated war veteran. He understands veterans. He’s dealt with thousands of servicemen. I think if he moves quickly and firmly against those in the field who caused the problems, he’ll be all right,” Dole said in a conversation at his law office in downtown Washington.
The 90-year-old former Senate leader is among the nation’s top advocates for veterans and military families and co-chaired a commission under President George W. Bush examining care for returning veterans. His wife, former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, now heads a charity supporting caretakers of wounded soldiers.
Dole, who said he has not been in touch with the Obama administration about the VA treatment backlog, emphasized that the government does “a lot for veterans” in spite of current problems at the VA.
“We do more in this country than any country in the world. And I think what we’re experiencing now – it may be a culture at the VA that’s developed in the last 10 to 20 years,” Dole said. “If you eliminate this hospital problem, I think we take pretty good care of our veterans and I spend a lot of time – and did in the Congress, working on veterans and veterans’ issues, veterans’ benefits.”
The former Kansas lawmaker noted that he introduced Shinseki at his confirmation hearing in 2009 with the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, himself a World War II veteran who became friends with Dole when both men were recovering from dire war wounds in a military hospital.
“I introduced Shinseki at his confirmation hearing along with Sen. Inouye, so maybe I’m a little biased,” Dole acknowledged.
Dole has made two trips to his native state of Kansas this year, touring the small towns where he campaigned throughout his career – and, Dole said, recently checking in on the VA hospital in Wichita.
“We have a veterans’ hospital there and they said there was no problem. They see their patients on time, so that was encouraging,” Dole said. “I haven’t checked the Topeka hospital yet.”
He intends to make several additional trips this summer and pay visits to all 105 counties in Kansas.