“It is my firm opinion that the problems within the (Veterans Health Administration) are so pervasive that they truly represent a crisis to those who have worn the uniform in defense of our nation and are seeking the health care benefits they have earned,” said Coffman, a Marine Corps combat veteran.
The scandal unfolded after media reports last month that a phony waiting list was created at an Arizona VA hospital to conceal that patients were not receiving timely health care. At least 40 veterans caught in the backlogged process died before getting treatment.
It has since been revealed that a Fort Collins VA health clinic was also cooking the books to hide excessive wait times for treatment, and that some employees were punished for refusing to comply with the cover-up.
“Your predecessor was forced to confront an embarrassing scandal when the American people learned of the poor living conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center at the height of the Iraq War,” Coffman wrote Monday to President Barack Obama.
“However, your secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has been at his post for five years and has yet to make a difference in changing the culture within the VA,” said Coffman, a Republican who chairs the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
Republican Rep. Cory Gardner has asked the inspector general to investigate problems at the Colorado facility, which appears to be part of a larger pattern of misconduct at the government-run hospitals.
“Our veterans have made immense sacrifices for our safety and freedom, and should have access to quality healthcare options,” Gardner said. “It is appalling that VA staff in Fort Collins falsified records to make it appear that patients were being seen in a timely fashion, when in fact, many have been waiting months for an appointment.”
Coffman and Gardner have called for the resignation of Shinseki, who testified last week before a Senate panel on the growing scandal.
Democratic Sen. Mark Udall who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has not demanded Shinseki’s resignation but instead called on the embattled leader to visit Colorado and review the problem-plagued construction of the Aurora VA medical center as well as the scheduling scandal at the Fort Collins VA facility.
“Mr. Secretary, your experience as a senior military leader makes you ideally suited to resolve many of the challenges currently facing VA,” Udall said in a letter last week to Shinseki.
“Unfortunately, given evidence of mismanagement on multiple fronts in Colorado and across the nation, it appears that you have either been shielded from the realities on the ground or have decided to keep your distance from critical issues and delegate site visits to others. In either case, the VA is suffering from an absence of public leadership and is foundering as a result,” Udall said.
Shinseki announced Friday he had accepted the resignation of the health undersecretary. However, that official had already announced his retirement and his replacement had since been named.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that the Obama administration asked for “historic” budget increases to fund veteran services.
“We have seen obviously the reports out of places like Phoenix and Fort Collins, and North Carolina and we’re going to get to the bottom of those things, fix them and ensure that they don’t happen again,” McDonough said.