WASHINGTON - US Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will be fighting for his career and veterans' confidence in his massive agency on Thursday when he testifies before a Senate committee about veterans who died while awaiting care.
But as more reports surface of alleged schemes to mask long wait times at VA hospitals and clinics, he will have a tougher time persuading lawmakers that he can fix the VA's problems.
While President Barack Obama has repeatedly voiced support for Shinseki, the political tide could quickly turn against the former four-star general if he fails to credibly show the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that he was unaware of any cover-ups of appointment wait times. "He needs to do the right thing and that's fix what's broken, own up to what he knows and get all the evidence out there," said Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, a committee member.
Congress' growing impatience with the VA's problems in delivering care and shrinking a massive backlog in disability claims was evident on Tuesday.
House Veterans Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, a Republican, asked Obama to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate care access for veterans, citing "disturbing silence from the White House and one excuse after another from VA" on the issue.
Missouri senators Roy Blunt, a Republican, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, asked the VA to investigate allegations by a St. Louis VA doctor about mental health care delays.
Blunt said such cases must be investigated immediately, or Congress "will see if somebody else will do it if the secretary for veterans affairs won't."
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, said he is concerned that the VA is being "politicized" despite serving millions of veterans well.