Obama Leaves Phoenix Without Visiting Scandal Plagued Facility

Veterans disappointed as Obama delivers speech one mile away from Phoenix VA hospital

President Barack Obama and HUD Secretary Julian Castro outside a housing development in Phoenix, Arizona / AP
January 8, 2015

President Obama visited Phoenix, Ariz., on Thursday to deliver remarks and announce new housing proposals in a speech at Central High School, but did not visit the Veteran Affairs facility that was minutes away.

The school was one mile away from the hospital where forty veterans died waiting to receive care while their names remained on a secret waitlist.

Much to the ire of Republican lawmakers and veteran groups, the president’s plans never included a visit to the facility.

The motorcade drove past the hospital on Thursday but did not stop. A local reporter tweeted a photo of the motorcade passing by, as a veteran in a wheelchair looked on.

Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs blasted the president's decision not to visit the Phoenix VA.

"For years, many in the veterans community have been calling on President Obama to become personally involved in helping solve the litany of problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs," Miller said. " The fact that the president’s motorcade today drove directly past the epicenter of the biggest scandal in VA history without even bothering to stop is proof those calls have fallen on deaf ears."

"It’s a shame he didn’t give them a bit of his time. I hope he at least slowed down as he drove by," Miller said.

The CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, Pete Hegseth, called the lack of a visit an "unconscionable" snub.

"While he addresses an adoring crowd, five minutes away there are wounded veterans still awaiting timely care, and long-overdue accountability, at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Hospital—the same hospital where, less than one year ago, America learned how grossly mismanaged our VA system had become," Hegseth wrote in an op-ed for the Arizona Republic.

"President Obama has faced many crises during the first six years of his administration … But the crisis of care and accountability at our nation's veteran hospitals, and the outrages that have been permitted to fester under his watch, is one he has yet to show he is serious about fixing."

A visit, Hegseth said, would be a step in the right direction.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain also urged the president to take time to stop at the Phoenix VA in order to "begin to restore our veterans’ confidence in it, and demonstrate his commitment to fully reforming the VA system which has too often failed them."

Obama stopped by a home in a south Phoenix neighborhood with the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Julian Castro before delivering his remarks, but Air Force One left Phoenix shortly after the conclusion of his speech.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the decision not to visit the VA hospital earlier this week, telling reporters, that secretaries of the agency had already visited.

"When the president appointed an acting secretary of the VA, Sloan Gibson, to that responsibility in the aftermath of some of these revelations, Mr. Gibson’s first visit as the Acting Secretary of the VA was to that Phoenix facility," Earnest said.

"I can tell you that once the president… nominated a permanent secretary of the VA, Mr. McDonald, to that job, that his first trip as VA secretary was down to Phoenix. And there have been some important personnel changes that have been made at that facility there.  There have been substantial operational reforms in place that are ensuring that the needs of the veterans in Phoenix are being better met by the medical facility there."

President Obama has not visited any VA facilities since reports of wait manipulation surfaced last spring.