Shinseki’s denial and sluggish response to an obvious problem (his department tarried eight days before complying with a House committee’s request to preserve documents for review) are reminiscent of the whitewash of the neglect of wounded troops at Walter Reed. This isn’t some phony, Republican-hyped allegation aimed at embarrassing the White House and inflicting political damage; this looks to be a serious and longstanding problem, where official wrongdoing has led to needless deaths.
The Government Accountability Office and others have been warning for a few years of problems with the waiting lists at VA facilities across the country. After years of the VA failing to respond, a CNN report last month that at least 40 veterans died in Phoenix waiting for treatment prompted the American Legion and some lawmakers to call for Shinseki’s resignation.
Shinseki has declined to ask the Justice Department to investigate, even though he has acknowledged that the alleged activity would be illegal. The most significant action so far: The White House dispatched a deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, to help Shinseki respond to the allegations. (Shinseki told the Senate panel he served with Nabors’s father and knows his parents well.) Another indication of the attitude of Shinseki’s team: Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the panel’s top Republican, disclosed at the hearing that a top Shinseki lieutenant, in a recent conference call with other VA officials, declared that the medical director of the Phoenix office had “done nothing wrong” and that the decision to put her on leave was “political.”