Senator, groups trade barbs over VA problems

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

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

Burr commended the American Legion for calling on VA Secretary Eric K. 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 without calling for Shinseki’s removal, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Disabled American Veterans.

Those groups fired back with scathing criticisms, saying Burr’s accusations were incorrect.

The VFW described the senator’s letter as a “monumental cheap shot,” saying its only agenda is to ensure quality care for former troops. The group has said Shinseki needs to take action against those responsible for the alleged coverups and that Congress needs to exercise greater oversight over 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.”

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

Joseph W. Johnston, the national commander of Disabled American Veterans, said 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.”

Paralyzed Veterans of America questioned Burr’s focus on removing Shinseki from office when other top Republicans, including House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) 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 wrote.

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.

Josh Hicks

Senate Democrats offer pay-raise measure

Two Senate Democrats have proposed a bill that would give federal employees a 3.3 percent pay raise in 2015.

Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) and Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.) proposed the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates Act on Friday, saying the legislation would help make up for the three-year pay freeze that ended in 2014 after President Obama ordered a 1 percent raise for federal workers.

Obama halted the annual pay increases for federal workers for two years starting in 2011. Congress extended the hold through 2013 while leaders in Washington were trying to reach a deal to trim federal deficits. Employees still received extra pay through promotions and performance awards.

J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the legislation would “help federal employees recoup some of that lost income and ensure the government is able to recruit and retain the high-caliber workers that taxpayers expect.”

Josh Hicks