Published December 20, 2015
The head of the American Legion called Monday for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and other top VA officials to resign over a series of scandals that have rocked the agency.
Decrying what he described as "poor oversight and failed leadership," the group's National Commander Dan Dellinger said the problems with the department need to be addressed at the "highest level," starting with new leadership. He said this is the first time the organization has called for such resignations in more than 30 years.
"It is obvious the issues are more widespread within the VA," Dellinger said, faulting "bureaucratic incompetence and failed leadership."
The Veterans of Foreign Wars would not go as far as the American Legion, releasing a statement saying it does not agree with the calls for resignations. VFW National Commander William A. Thien said it is still "paramount that Secretary Shinseki get publicly in front of this immediately to address the valid concerns of veterans and their families, and to reestablish the credibility of the entire VA health and benefits systems, and that of his own office."
The White House also released a statement Monday saying President Obama is standing by Shinseki and "remains confident in Secretary Shinseki's ability to lead the department."
The American Legion cited a litany of complaints against the VA, citing everything from the agency's infamous backlog to controversial bonuses. But a handful of recent scandals appeared to factor heavily.
Most recent was a report that a Colorado clinic allegedly falsified documents to make it seem like patients were being seen in a timely fashion.
The findings were contained in a report by the VA Office of Medical Inspector. USA Today first reported on the findings, and the VA confirmed the review.
The investigation reportedly found that clerks at the Fort Collins clinic were coached on manipulating records so it appeared patients were being seen within the desired timeframe of 14 days -- even though many were waiting months. The report found that staff who did not go along with this were placed on a "bad boy list."
A VA spokesman, in response to the findings, said that in every area where the investigation substantiated allegations, "a plan with clearly defined objectives was developed with set deadlines for compliance, and corrective actions are ongoing."
The spokesman noted that "there is no indication that health outcomes were affected."
But the development follows accusations that VA officials at a Phoenix facility kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide treatment delays. In that case, up to 40 patients allegedly may have died because of delays.
In light of those accusations, three executives at the veterans hospital in Phoenix were placed last week on administrative leave amid an investigation.
Phoenix VA officials have denied any knowledge of a secret list and said they had found no evidence of patient deaths due to delayed care.
The claims are the latest to come to light as VA hospitals around the country struggle to handle the huge volume of patients who need medical attention, including aging vets from World War II, Korea and Vietnam and a newer influx from wars over the last decade. In the past year, VA facilities in South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Washington state have been linked to delays in patient care or poor oversight.
In the Colorado case, a VA spokesman said the medical center did not find "any intentional violation" of policy by managers or schedulers.
The VA said unclear guidelines led to "confusion" in the clinic.
"Extensive training with supervisors and employees occurred immediately and continues. In addition, weekly audits are conducted to ensure scheduling is being done appropriately with the proper supervision," the spokesman said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.