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Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki is 'mad as hell,' but he won't step down

Embattled Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki told a Senate panel Thursday he's unhappy over allegations of deaths at a V.A. facility in Phoenix that might be tied to lengthy waits for health care.

WASHINGTON---The head of Veterans Affairs is "mad as hell" but won't walk the plank.
Embattled Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki told a Senate panel Thursday he's unhappy over allegations of deaths at a V.A. facility in Phoenix that might be tied to lengthy waits for health care.
But he won't step down. The huge medical system operates well, he said, and he awaits an inspector general's report to identify the issues in Phoenix.
The White House reiterated its support for the retired general. “Shinseki has dedicated his life to the armed forces of the United States, to the defense of this country," White House chief of staff Denis McDonough told CNN.
CNN has reported that at least 40 vets died while waiting in Phoenix for health care. The department's acting inspector general testified that he's not found proof yet linking any deaths to those waits.
Senators on both sides voiced frustration that problems with scheduling appointments and poor bookkeeping persist at the V.A.
Shinseki, a retired general, said it was his "mission" to solve any problems and that he'd report back in three weeks on a national audit of wait times.
The four-hour session provided classic political theater as senators righteously vented and a contrite but undaunted Shinseki promised to do better.
He played down multiple criticisms that have prompted calls for his resignation, the inspector general's ongoing investigation and a White House decision to dispatch a top Obama aide to oversee the matter.
Shinseki insisted that the overall system provides "exceptional health care."
He got some support from Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent and the committee chairman, who clearly believes there are some persistent problems, but argues the V.A. system stacks up well against the rest of the nation's health care system.
Sanders said there has been a "rush to judgment" and there's a need to get to the bottom of the Arizona allegation. He argued that the department provides good quality care as it treats 6.5 million veterans a year — more than 200,000 a day.
It handles 85 million outpatient visits a year, said Shinseki aide Robert Petzel.
Problems at the agency’s facilities were underscored by both Republicans and Democrats, including Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the top GOP member.
Burr cited past government reports, including ones highlighting the wait lists, as he suggested that Shinseki has moved too slowly to deal with systemic scheduling snafus.
The high-profile nature of the subject matter explained the appearance of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), not a member of the panel, who was allowed to speak because he represents Phoenix.
He called good care for veterans "the most solemn obligation our nation incurs" and said: "We must do better."
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wa.) said it was critical to find out if V.A. employees are "gaming the system" and manipulating data on wait times — a problem she said has been documented by oversight groups for years.
"We only have one mission, taking care of these veterans," Shinseki responded. "We have a vested interest to get this right."

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