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May 29. 2014 12:10PM

NH delegation united in call for Shinseki resignation at VA

New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation is now united in calling for the resignation of Department of Veteran’s Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki in the wake of a widening scandal over long wait times at VA hospitals.

In a series of statements issued Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., and Rep. Carol Shea Porter, D-N.H., joined Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., in calling for Shinseki to resign.

Ayotte called on Shinseki to resign on May 21.

The three Democrats cited the interim report issued Wednesday by the VA Inspector General, which indicated the problems at VA hospitals are more widespread than initially reported.

“After reading the Inspector General’s interim report, I am calling for General Shinseki’s resignation,” Shaheen said in her statement. “It’s time for a forceful new leader to address the outrageous problems at the VA.”

The announcements came amid a new wave of calls for Shinseki to resign or be fired by President Obama, after the inspector general confirmed “systemic” and widespread VA scheduling abuses to cover up long wait times for veterans’ healthcare.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ internal watchdog is probing manipulation of appointment data at 42 VA medical centers, up from 26 last week, according to the interim report on allegations of secret waiting lists released Wednesday.

The report confirmed allegations that staff at VA medical facilities in Phoenix significantly understated months-long wait times for healthcare appointments for veterans. It linked these actions to performance appraisals, bonus awards and salary increases for VA executives.

The findings prompted some Republicans and Democrats like Shaheen, who had withheld judgment on Shinseki, to call for his immediate resignation.

“I have tremendous respect for General Shinseki and honor his service to this nation. He has worked with me to bring new veterans’ health care services to New Hampshire and has made important progress in reducing the claims backlog,” said Shaheen. “However, it has become clear that after six years as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, General Shinseki has been unable to solve other fundamental problems that plague the agency.”

Shaheen’s announcement came at around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night, about an hour after Kuster and Shea-Porter took the same position.

“General Shinseki is a great man and a war hero, and I am grateful for his long service to our country and to our veterans. However, after seeing the report released today, I believe Secretary Shinseki should step down,” said Shea-Porter in her statement. “We need new management at the VA to lean hard on wrongdoers and clean house wherever necessary. Most of our VA employees across the country care deeply about the men and women they serve and work hard, but there is an institutional dysfunction that requires a fresh look by new people.”

Kuster, who serves on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said she was “shocked and appalled” by the interim report.

“This report, coupled with the VA’s gross failure to comply with the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee investigation into this matter, leads me to believe it is time for new leadership at the VA,” she said. “On Wednesday night, I called on Secretary Shinseki to tender his resignation, so a new acting secretary can take his place and work to immediately provide care for any veteran who is still waiting for health services.”

The state Republican Party issued a statement saying the three Democrats, “Made the right decision by joining Republicans in calling for Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. It is unfortunate that it took them so long to finally take this position, but their calls for change at the Department of Veterans Affairs are better made late than never.”dsolomon@unionleader.com


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