WASHINGTON (AP) — Three Senate Republicans called Tuesday for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, following allegations of corruption and avoidable deaths at a veterans' hospital in Phoenix.
The Senate's Republican leader, meanwhile, said a leadership change may help resolve what he calls "dysfunction" at the VA. "It's certainly been an embarrassing period for the VA," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday after a closed party caucus. "It's been a stunning period of dysfunction."
McConnell stopped short of calling for Shinseki to step down, but said, "A change in leadership might be a good step in the right direction." McConnell's comments came as three Republican senators — John Cornyn of Texas, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Richard Burr of North Carolina — called for Shinseki to resign amid claims that up to 40 patients in Phoenix may have died because of delays in care. Burr is the senior Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Cornyn, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, said Shinseki's tenure has been marked by "bureaucratic incompetence and failed leadership" and said he agrees with the American Legion, which called for Shinseki's resignation on Monday.
"General Shinseki's time as secretary of Veterans Affairs has come to an end, and he needs to step down," Cornyn said, adding that President Barack Obama "needs to find a new leader to lead this organization out of the wilderness, and back to providing the service our veterans deserve."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that Obama retains confidence in Shinseki. The White House takes the allegations about the Phoenix hospital "very seriously," Carney said, noting that Obama has directed Shinseki and the department's inspector general to investigate the Phoenix deaths.
The Phoenix hospital has been under fire over allegations that up to 40 patients may have died because of delays in care and that the hospital kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide the treatment delays. Shinseki announced last week that three officials there have been placed on leave.
The VA has acknowledged that 23 patients have died as a result of delayed care in recent years. The VA's Office of Medical Inspector said clerks at a Fort Collins, Colorado, clinic were instructed last year on how to falsify appointment records. Other problems have occurred in Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia.
"There needs to be a change, and that change needs to occur at the top," American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger said Monday. The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars disagreed with the calls for Shinseki to resign.
Still, VFW leader William Thien said it was "paramount that Secretary Shinseki get publicly in front of this immediately to address the valid concerns of veterans and their families, and to re-establish the credibility of the entire VA health and benefits systems, and that of his own office."
VA spokesman Drew Brookie said Shinseki, a former Army chief of staff who served in Vietnam and Iraq, has dedicated his life to his fellow veterans. "Nobody is more committed to completing the work that lies ahead," Brookie said.