Sen. Burr fights with veterans groups during Memorial Day weekend

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A fight over the recent Veterans Affairs scheduling controversy erupted during Memorial Day weekend with an exchange of nasty letters between a Republican senator and several veterans groups he accused of responding weakly to the alleged scandal.

Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, issued an open letter on Friday accusing prominent veterans groups of not hitting the VA hard enough over allegations that its hospitals manipulated their records to cover up treatment delays.


Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, center, meets with Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), right, and the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). (AP/Cliff Owen).

Burr commended the American Legion for calling on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, but he said other veterans groups “appear to be more interested in defending the status quo within VA, protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the Secretary and his inner circle.”

Burr directed the swipe at groups that recently testified about the scheduling controversy without calling for Shinseki’s removal, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Disabled American Veterans.

Those groups fired back over the weekend with scathing criticisms of their own, saying Burr’s letter was ill-timed to coincide with Memorial Day weekend and that his accusations were incorrect.

The VFW described the senator’s letter as a “monumental cheap shot,” saying the VFW’s only agenda is to ensure quality care for former troops. The group has stood by Shinseki, saying he needs to take strong action against those who were responsible for the alleged cover ups and that Congress needs to exercise greater oversight over the VA.

The VFW also signaled a new adversarial posture toward Congress, saying that branch of government has been unresponsive to its concerns.

“For years, the VFW has come to Congress with hat in hand, and for years, we’ve heard the same old story,” the VFW said. “You can be assured senator, that you’ve done a superb job in showing us the error in our ways. You can also be assured that in the future, we will spend a substantial percentage of our time seeking to inform our members and our constituents of the repeated failure to act by our elected officials.”

The other two groups suggested that Burr is too focused on removing Shinseki from office.

Disabled American Veterans national commander Joseph Johnston said in a response that Burr shows “no interest in pursuing serious policy solutions, preferring instead to launch cheap political attacks on the integrity of leaders of veterans organizations that do not agree with him, all of whom served honorably to defend this nation and then devoted all or most of their lives to serving their fellow veterans.”

Paralyzed Veterans of America questioned Burr’s focus on removing Shinseki from office when other top Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner and House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (Fla.), have not called for the secretary’s resignation.

“You clearly represent the worst of politics in this country,” the group said in its response letter.

The Obama administration announced Saturday that it would allow more veterans to obtain health care at private health centers in an effort to avoid treatment delays.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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