Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is facing numerous calls to resign following a scandal involving dozens of patient deaths and falsified records at a Phoenix VA hospital.
Several U.S. senators and congressmen called for Shinseki to step down Tuesday, just a day after the American Legion—the nation’s largest veterans service organization—demanded his resignation.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the Obama administration is still supporting Shinseki during Tuesday’s press briefing.
“We must ensure that our nation's veterans get the benefits and the services that they deserve and they have earned,” Carney said. “The president remains confident in Secretary Shinseki's ability to lead the department and to take appropriate action based on the IG's findings.”
A national scandal erupted after news reports and whistleblowers came forward with evidence that at least 40 veterans had died from delays in treatment at a Phoenix, Ariz., VA hospital. The hospital was using a secret list to hide the long wait times from officials in Washington.
An internal investigation uncovered similar practices at a Colorado VA hospital.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R., Texas) and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee member Jerry Moran (R., Ks.) both echoed the American Legion on Tuesday in calling for Shinseki’s resignation.
“We need a point person, appointed by the White House to get to the bottom of this, and we need the majority leader to hold emergency committee meetings to get to the bottom of this and to stop it, as soon as possible,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor.
“But I agree with the American Legion that General Shinseki’s time as Secretary of Veterans Affairs has come to an end, and he needs to step down,” he continued. “The president needs to find a new leader to lead this organization out of the wilderness, and back to providing the service our veterans deserve.”
Investigations by CNN in December found that more than 19 veterans across the country had died from delays in routine cancer screenings.
In response, the VA conducted a nationwide review of consulting practices at its facilities and hospitals. Overall, the VA report found a total of 76 veterans suffered serious harm as a result of delayed gastrointestinal cancer screenings. Of those, 23 died.
The report did not say when those deaths occurred, nor did it include preventable deaths from other conditions.
The VA had previously refused to release the names of the facilities where the “institutional disclosures of adverse events”—the bureaucratic phrase for mistakes that gravely injure or kill a patient—occurred.
“There is a difference in wanting change and leading it to happen,” Moran said on the Senate floor. “I'm demanding accountability and true transformation in the VA system and its culture from top to bottom and all across the country. Secretary Shinseki seemingly is unwilling or unable to do so, and change must be made at the top.”
The VA also said it remains confident in Shinseki.
“Secretary Shinseki has dedicated his life to his fellow veterans, and nobody is more committed to completing the work that lies ahead," a VA spokesman told the Washington Examiner. "As the secretary says, providing veterans the quality care and benefits they have earned through their service is our only mission at VA.”