ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sen. Tom Udall, a vocal critic of the nation’s handling of veterans health, and Sen. Martin Heinrich today called on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.
Udall and Heinrich, both New Mexico Democrats, are among a growing list of congressmen and senators from both parties calling for the VA secretary’s resignation.
“Independent investigators at the VA are now confirming what I have been saying for weeks: that the problems at the VA are systemic and rooted in a culture that has rewarded cover-ups and cheating to the point of risking the health of our veterans,” Udall said. “What I have heard from New Mexico veterans and read in the OIG report is a betrayal of the heroes who fought for our freedom. It’s clear to me that Secretary Shinseki must step down to make way for new leadership that can restore accountability and transparency and ensure veterans in New Mexico and nationwide get the care they have earned.”
Heinrich said he has “a mountain of respect” for Shinseki’s service to America, but the scandal-marred VA needs new leadership. A preliminary report released by the agency’s office of inspector general found that least 1,700 veterans waiting for health care services at the Phoenix VA medical facility were not included on the facility’s wait list, and patients there waited an average of 115 days for their first appointments. The interim report also found that inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic at VA medical facilities nationwide, including manipulation of wait times to see a doctor.
“I have a mountain of respect for what General Shinseki has done in service to our country, but our nation’s veterans deserve nothing less than the very best service our nation has to offer,” Heinrich said. “Tragically, that has not always been the case. The fact that veterans in Phoenix were left off waiting lists and that veterans waited an average of 115 days for their first appointments is absolutely unacceptable. Furthermore, the confirmation of problems being systemic and not limited to Phoenix, is even more disturbing.
“Over the years I’ve met and known many people, particularly in the New Mexico VA system; doctors, nurses, physical therapists and others, who work tirelessly and effectively on behalf of the men and women who have served this country.
“I call on President Obama to appoint a new Secretary who will provide the leadership and management that our nation’s veterans need and deserve. I will continue working in the U.S. Senate to provide the VA with the resources it needs to fulfill the promises we made to every veteran who volunteered to serve our country.”
According to a statement from Udall’s office, the New Mexico Democrat will submit a report to the Office of the Inspector General based on what he has heard from New Mexico veterans, family members and others, who have contacted his office.
Earlier this month, Udall urged veterans with concerns about mismanagement of the scheduling system or other problems to contact the OIG or his office by phone or via a special page on his website: tomudall.senate.gov/veterans.
“We must get to the bottom of this – and fast,” Udall said. “I continue to urge those with knowledge of VA scheduling manipulation in New Mexico to contact the OIG or my office. We cannot stop until the VA health system has comprehensive reform and the resources it needs. Veterans deserve nothing less than the best health care we can provide.”