The American Legion, a veterans service organization, is calling for the resignations of U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and two others, largely due to the allegations of veterans dying on a waiting list at the Phoenix VA health care system.
"The disturbing reports coming from the Phoenix VA Medical Center are just one of what appears to be a pattern of scandals that have infected the entire system," Legion commander Daniel M. Dellinger writes. "It has been more than 20 years since The American Legion has called for the resignation of a public official. It's not something we do lightly."
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The Legion, which describes itself as the "nation's largest wartime veterans service organization," also is calling for the resignations of Under Secretary of Health Robert Petzel -- who's responsible for overseeing VA healthcare systems nationwide -- and Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey.
A former Phoenix VA doctor has claimed that about 40 veterans died while on a sort of "secret" waiting list.
Although the VA's own investigation has turned up nothing, three Phoenix VA employees have been placed on leave, including director Sharon Helman.
The VA's Office of Inspector General currently is investigating the claims, and the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs will be holding hearings once that report is complete.
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Dellinger's open letter continues:
As national commander of The American Legion, I was able to meet with President Obama in the Oval Office a few weeks ago. I expressed The American Legion's strong concerns about service at the VA.
I also discussed the unacceptable benefits backlog and poor access to facilities with Shinseki. My staff has met with top VA officials. We have found the meetings far less than satisfactory and the answers not very forthcoming. In fact, the secretary didn't seem to fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation and, at the time, didn't feel anybody needed to be replaced. If it were a private institution or if the executives were still in the military, they would be relieved of duty.
VA's senior leaders didn't seem to realize that one great tragedy of these delays and needless deaths is that they undeniably besmirch the compassionate work of thousands of dedicated VA employees and the outstanding care that many facilities provide. A few years ago, The American Legion was lauding the VA for its great care and we hope to do so again. Unfortunately, we do not see VA enacting the culture change that it so desperately needs with the current leadership in place. Senior VA leaders have isolated themselves from the media and, more importantly, from answering to their shareholders, America's veterans.
We look forward to hearing the results of the VA Inspector General's report and The American Legion welcomes Sen. Bernie Sanders' intention to hold hearings based on the IG's findings.
Like the mythical bird for which the city is named, the Phoenix VAMC needs to rise from the ashes of its bureaucratic ineptitude and provide the medical care worthy of the veterans it was built to serve.
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