Veterans groups slam Obama comments on VA
By Justin Sink - 05/21/14 12:55 PM EDT
Top veterans groups said Wednesday they were disappointed that President Obama did not announce the removal of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki during the president’s remarks on the scandal surrounding VA health facilities.
Obama's decision to stand by Shinseki was "an unfortunate one," The American Legion said in a statement.
"The VA has been aware for some time that inappropriate scheduling procedures are widespread among its medical facilities," said American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger. "Yet Secretary Shinseki has taken no initiative in correcting the problem. Veterans continue to die waiting for their health care, senior VA executives continue to get their bonuses, and only after all of this is the secretary now pledging to fix what’s wrong."
The American Legion's call for Shinseki's resignation earlier this month drew attention to the mismanagement at VA branches, which allegedly lead to the deaths of dozens of veterans awaiting medical care.
Paul Rieckhoff, the CEO and founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called the president's comments on the growing scandal "a tremendous disappointment" and said those impacted by mismanagement at health centers across the country shouldn't have to wait as the government investigated allegations of misconduct.
"The President's remarks today were a tremendous disappointment to America's newest generation of veterans. He did nothing to quell the growing nationwide VA controversy," said Rieckhoff, who blasted Obama's comments as "long overdue" and said they gave members of his organization "no reason to believe anything will change at the VA anytime soon."
"Speeches and excuses will not solve this problem," Rieckhoff said. "Only decisive leadership, bold change and strong accountability will repair decades of failure."
The IAVA founder went on to declare "the public trust with the VA and Secretary Shinseki is broken."
In a press conference at the White House following a meeting with Shinseki and Rob Nabors, a White House deputy chief of staff tasked with leading an internal investigation into the allegations, Obama vowed accountability for those who may have falsified records to hide wait times at VA facilities.
But while acknowledging that "people are angry and want swift reckoning," Obama largely defended Shinseki and stressed it was important to allow the investigation to play out.
"We have to let the investigators do their job, and get to the bottom of what happened. Our veterans deserve to know the facts," Obama said.
Not all veterans groups voiced disappointment with the president. Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander William A. Thien called the president's comments "the right words" in a statement.
"We share the president’s urgency to fix what’s broke, to hold people appropriately accountable, and to restore faith in the VA," Thien said.
Nabors met with six veterans groups, including the American Legion and the VFW in a series of meetings Tuesday in Washington.