Arizona Republic- VA scandal audit: Reaction from lawmakers

Arizona Republic- VA scandal audit: Reaction from lawmakers

Reaction to the Department of Veterans Affairs audit was immediate, with some lawmakers continuing to push for a deeper probe of the wait-time scandal.
Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake renewed their calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate evidence of criminal wrongdoing at VA medical facilities. McCain, Flake and 19 other senators sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week urging the probe.
“Accountability must accompany reform if we are to restore faith in the VA,” Flake tweeted Monday after the audit’s release.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the audit’s finding that more than 57,000 veterans are still waiting for their first doctor appointment from the VA “a national disgrace.”
“The House will act this week on a common-sense bill that would allow any veteran forced to wait more than 30 days for an appointment the option to receive private-sector care,” Boehner said. “It’s an important bill, and the president should call on the Senate to pass it immediately after the House acts.”
Veterans’ advocacy groups were equally strident in their statements, with some urging urged President Barack Obama to adopt an eight-point plan calling for criminal investigations, an overhaul of VA technology and placement of a veteran as the new department secretary.
“This audit is absolutely infuriating, and underscores the depth of this scandal,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association. “Our vets demand action and answers.”
U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said, “Based on the disturbing findings in today’s report, I am calling for a more in-depth audit of facilities flagged as problematic, including the one in Prescott that serves so many of our northern Arizona veterans. I ask the Inspector General to engage immediately with the Prescott VA to investigate wrongdoing and determine if a criminal investigation is needed.”
U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz, focused on the average wait-time for veterans seeking counseling through the Phoenix VA Health Care System, tweeting that a “44-day wait for mental health care is unacceptable. More action required for Phoenix VA.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said: “What this report shows is that there is a level of corruption and malice at the highest levels of the VA. The efforts to attack the whistle-blowers are despicable and unethical. We know that the president has not been paying attention, and this is what can happen when a leader fails to lead. Our veterans deserve so much better.”
Assessing the extent of the wait-time issues was necessary, veterans organizations said. And Rick Weidman, executive director of policy and government affairs for the Vietnam Veterans of America, said the results were not surprising.
“It’s as we thought. It’s everywhere and the reason that it’s everywhere is because people were fudging the figures and saying we had enough clinicians and in fact they haven’t had enough clinicians for a long time,” Weidman said told The Arizona Republic.
The steps the VA has announced to address the matter are inadequate, because they don’t address the gravity of the situation, he added.
The VA would benefit by drawing upon additional clinicians from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard, active duty military services and other sources because the backlog of veterans waiting for service is just too great too great for the VA to handle by itself, Weidman said.
Representatives for other veterans organizations also were encouraged by the data release. The audit was a good first step, said Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars association.
“The VA has to identify and fix what’s broken. They have to hold people to the fullest extent of the law and they have to restore the faith of the veterans in the VA. Every step going forward is going to help in that mission,” Davis said.
It is likely that as investigators look deeper into the workings of the VA, they’ll find additional problems, he said.

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