American Legion Calls For VA Secretary's Resignation

For the first time in decades, the American Legion is calling for the resignation of a secretary of Veterans Affairs, citing a string of scandals at VA facilities around the country.

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The country's largest veteran's organization wants the secretary of Veterans Affairs to resign. The American Legion hasn't targeted a public official this way since 1941. And in the past, they've supported VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. But now, there are allegations that dozens of veterans died waiting for health care. And VA hospitals are accused of fixing the stats. The VA is investigating.

As NPR's Quil Lawrence reports, even its defenders say the department had better have some answers soon.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: American Legion commander Dan Dellinger said a pattern of scandals plague the VA system.

DAN DELLINGER: This is a very serious situation and the administration needs to take steps now.

LAWRENCE: The legion has asked the White House to remove three top officials at the VA, including Secretary Eric Shinseki, a Vietnam vet with two Purple Hearts, a man the legion had staunchly supported in the past.

DELLINGER: When you talk about care for veterans in this country, it's above everything else, no matter who the person is. And Secretary Shinseki has been a great leader, a great military general, and this is the most difficult thing I've ever had to do.

LAWRENCE: The VA has been dogged by complaints for years, top of the list is the huge backlog of disability claims. Lately there have been a series of other problems, veterans dying of preventable conditions at a handful of VA hospitals. But the driving issue is the charge last month that the VA Hospital in Phoenix kept two sets of books, to conceal the long wait times for care and allegations that veterans died waiting.

VA spokesman Drew Brookie says the department's inspector general is investigating.

DREW BROOKIE: If the inspector general substantiates these allegations, we will take appropriate action.

LAWRENCE: The White House stands behind Shinseki. And some veterans do defend his record that veterans' homelessness has dropped 24 percent on his watch, that the claims backlog has been nearly cut in half, and patients when surveyed they're satisfied with care.

But even supporters caution that allegations of cooking the books at the Phoenix VA and elsewhere could cast doubt on everything the VA says it has achieved. The country's largest combat vets group did not join the call for Shinseki's resignation.

Joe Davis is with the VFW.

JOE DAVIS: It is paramount that the secretary gets publicly in front of this immediately, to address the valid concerns of veterans and their families, and to help reestablish the credibility of the entire VA health and benefits systems and that of his own office.

LAWRENCE: Secretary Shinseki has put the head of the Phoenix VA on administrative leave while that investigation is underway. Critics and supporters in Congress have said they will wait for that report before taking further action. That might not be until August.

Quil Lawrence, NPR news.

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