Boehner, Pelosi Agree Shinseki Deserves Patience With Veterans Affairs

VA problems are structural, bigger than one person
By Mary Silver
Mary Silver
Mary Silver
Mary Silver writes columns, grows herbs, hikes, and admires the sky. She likes critters, and thinks the best part of being a journalist is learning new stuff all the time. She has a Masters from Emory University, serves on the board of the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and belongs to the Association of Health Care Journalists.
May 30, 2014 Updated: May 29, 2014

The leaders of both parties in the House are not willing to ask Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi both took a pragmatic approach. Firing the head of the troubled VA would not solve its systemic problems, according to Boehner.

A report from the VA inspector general released Wednesday showed that hundreds of veterans in Phoenix, Ariz., waited far too long for health care. But the problems are nationwide and systemic. The report said about 1,700 veterans in need of care were “at risk of being lost or forgotten” after being kept off the official waiting list at the Phoenix VA hospital. Veterans on the list waited an average of 115 days for a first appointment—nearly five times longer than the average the hospital had reported to the national VA, the report said.

Long Term

Problems at the VA have been reported for many years, and not fixed. They were reported during the previous administration.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she has great respect for Shinseki and firing him would reward those who misled him. Shinseki is a retired four-star Army general.

In a Memorial Day statement, she said, “In the past five years, two million new veterans have come home, bearing the seen and unseen scars of war. We must stop thinking incrementally and start thinking entrepreneurially about how we can get these millions of new veterans the resources and the care they have earned. We must honor that solemn vow: that just as the military leaves no one behind on the battlefield, we will leave no veteran behind at home.”

Reserving Judgement

Boehner told reporters Thursday he’s reserving judgment about the embattled secretary.

Even if Shinseki were to step down, it wouldn’t solve the problems of the VA’s troubled health care system, said Boehner (R-Ohio). He blames the president. “The real issue here is that the president is the one who should be held accountable,” he said at a press conference Thursday.

“This is more than just about phony waiting lists. This is also about the quality of care that we provide for our veterans. There is a serious problem here and we need to get the bottom of it before we begin to prescribe what the diagnosis is for treatment to fix the problem,” said Boehner.

Meanwhile, six Democrats and dozens of Republicans have called for Shinseki to resign. He has led the VA since 2009.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mary Silver
Mary Silver writes columns, grows herbs, hikes, and admires the sky. She likes critters, and thinks the best part of being a journalist is learning new stuff all the time. She has a Masters from Emory University, serves on the board of the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and belongs to the Association of Health Care Journalists.