On VA Scandal, No Partisan Divide, Just Universal Outrage : It's All Politics Anger is a widespread reaction in Washington as systemic problems in the veterans health care system come to light. But there's disagreement among politicians and veterans on how to fix the problems.
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On VA Scandal, No Partisan Divide, Just Universal Outrage

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On VA Scandal, No Partisan Divide, Just Universal Outrage

On VA Scandal, No Partisan Divide, Just Universal Outrage

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. There's more bad news for administrators at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A preliminary review by the inspector general for that department has found that inappropriate scheduling practices are indeed a systemic problem in VA facilities. The interim report adds that it would be premature to link these delays in getting health care to allegations that dozens of veterans have died while waiting, but this report will add political pressure on the White House to fix the problems. Here's NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The allegations that VA bureaucrats falsified data to cover up long delays at veterans hospitals is a scandal that transcends the usual partisan food fight, says Duke University's Peter Feaver, a former Bush White House official.

PETER FEAVER: Care for veterans is what's known as a valence issue in political science. Valence issues are Mom, apple pie - things that everybody on both sides of the aisle cares for, and they just compete for who loves Mom or who loves the flag more, who cares for veterans more.

LIASSON: Even the "Daily Show's" Jon Stewart - no enemy of the Obama administration - has been outraged, repeatedly mocking VA secretary Eric Shinseki.


JON STEWART: General Shinseki, since you've headed up the VA since 2009, five years into your tenure might be a good time to better convey the anger you say you feel. Your mad as hell face looks a lot like your, oh, we're out of orange juice, face.

LIASSON: Being mad as hell about the VA is a widespread reaction in Washington, starting at the very top.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it - period.

LIASSON: But just because the outrage is bipartisan, that doesn't mean the scandal isn't also being used as a political tool. Republicans see the VA scandal as yet another millstone around the president's neck this election year.

Yesterday, the RNC began a robocall campaign targeting 10 vulnerable Democratic incumbents.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So why won't the president launch an independent investigation to get to the bottom of this? Call Senator Mark Begich and tell him our veterans deserve...

LIASSON: By yesterday evening, more than a dozen Democrats had begun to publicly call for Shinseki's resignation. They joined Republican leaders like Jerry Moran, Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn.

SENATOR JERRY MORAN: This morning I called for the resignation of Secretary Shinseki.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Obviously a change in leadership might be a good step in the right direction.

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: But I agree with the American Legion that General Shinseki's time as Secretary of Veterans Affairs has come to an end.

LIASSON: But the politics of the VA scandal aren't so simple, even for Republicans. So far, the American Legion is the only veterans group to call for Shinseki's ouster. Over the weekend, after North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the ranking Republican on the Veteran's Affairs committee, wrote an open letter to veterans groups blasting them for not demanding Shinseki step down. An unusually personal and bitter fight broke out.

Veterans groups including the VFW blasted right back, calling Burr dishonorable, grossly inappropriate and the worst of politics. Jon Soltz, the chairman of VoteVets says the timing of Burr's letter crossed a line.

JON SOLTZ: To go after veterans that way, especially on Memorial Day weekend, of all things, is really unbecoming of a U.S. senator.

LIASSON: Of course, like most real Washington scandals, the origins of the VA problems are bipartisan, with very deep roots. For years, both parties have been competing to see who could promise greater benefits to veterans and that's put new burdens on the veterans administration. The VA has also been slow to modernize its systems, a failing that predates President Obama. But since Peter Feaver, the scandal presents unique problems for this administration.

FEAVER: No president wants to see delivery foul-ups as great as the ones that have been reported on Veterans Affairs. But when your signature issue is the delivery of medical services, and when that signature issue already was botched, this reinforces the image of an administration that can't deliver.

LIASSON: And there's another problem for the president and his party - for more than 20 years, Democrats from Bill Clinton to John Kerry to Barack Obama have been working to shed their party's post-Vietnam reputation as reflexively anti-military. They've made a careful distinction between being anti-war and being anti-armed forces.

President Obama and the first lady have made progress persuading veterans that the needs of service members and their families are a top priority for Democrats. And that's why, says Feaver...

FEAVER: Democrats recognize that they have to show that they're taking this issue seriously. Indeed, the White House has responded to this in a much more crisis-management way than some other scandals that they believe they can dismiss as mere partisanship.

LIASSON: Because, on the VA scandal, there isn't a partisan divide - just universal outrage that the nation's veterans have been so poorly served.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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