Boehner stops short of calling for Shinseki’s resignation


File: Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) stopped short of calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki in the light of a new report that concluded the department's medical facilities have systemic problems.

"I'm going to continue to reserve judgement on General Shinseki," Boehner told reporters during the weekly GOP leadership news conference. "The question I ask myself is: is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem, is it going to help us find out what is really going on? The answer is no."

Boehner's remarks on Thursday were consistent with his previous statements on the brewing scandal.

"This is more than just about phony waiting list, this is about the quality of care we provide for our veterans," Boehner said.

Boehner's refusal to outright call for Shinseki to step down comes as prominent lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are insisting the VA secretary must resign after a report released Wednesday concluded that the excessive wait times are a systemic, nationwide problem.

Dozens of Republicans have called for Shinseki’s resignation, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), a leading voice on military and foreign affairs; Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.), who heads the House Veterans’ Affairs committee; and Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (Calif.), who leads the House Armed Services Committee.

Those calls have also been joined by several Democrats.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Mark R. Udall (Colo.) became the first sitting Democratic senator to call for the resignation. He was soon joined by Sen. John Walsh (Mont.), Sen. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Sen. Al Franken (Minn.), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), and Rep. Scott Peters (Calif.), Rep. Bruce Braley (Iowa), Rep. Ron Barber (Ariz.), Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio) and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.).

The 35-page interim report by the VA inspector general found that 1,700 veterans using a Phoenix VA hospital were kept on unofficial wait lists, a practice that helped officials avoid criticism for failing to accommodate former service members in an appropriate amount of time.

A review of 226 veterans seeking appointments at the hospital in 2013 found that 84 percent had to wait more than two weeks to be seen. But officials at the hospital had reported that fewer than half were forced to wait that long, a false account that was then used to help determine eligibility for employee awards and pay raises.

The agency has made it a goal to schedule appointments for veterans seeking medical care within 30 days. But the interim IG report found that in the 226-case sample, the average wait for a veteran seeking a first appointment was 115 days, a period officials allegedly tried to hide by placing veterans on "secret lists" until an appointment could be found in the appropriate time frame.

"They've known about this, they've ignored it," said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif), the GOP House whip, who has previously called on Shinseki to resign.

Shinseki, who has been in the post since Obama's first day in office, expressed outrage at the findings and noted that he launched an initiative last week to expand capacity at VA clinics and allow more veterans to obtain health care at private health centers.

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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