Sen. John McCain refused to join the American Legion in calling for the resignation of Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki in the wake of reports about veterans dying waiting for care.
“I can understand their anger,” the Arizona Republican said Monday in a brief interview with reporters off the Senate floor.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has come under increasing scrutiny following reports of as many as 40 deaths of Arizona veterans while waiting for care.
“I am not proud of the job that Gen. Shinseki has done, but I want to get the Inspector General’s report done, I want to get the hearings done. ... We have time to make a judgment," said McCain, a long-serving member of the Armed Services Committee.
“Right now I am willing to give the process a chance to go through,” he added. McCain's comments come after Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, today called for the resignation of Shinseki. Dellinger also called for the resignation of Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey.
But the Veterans of Foreign Wars, another veterans interest group, agreed with McCain and today came out against the call for the VA resignations.
“It is paramount that Secretary Shinseki get publicly in front of this immediately to address the valid concerns of veterans and their families, and to reestablish the credibility of the entire VA health and benefits systems, and that of his own office,” said VFW National Commander William A. Thien.
“The VFW looks forward to the swift completion of the ongoing VA Inspector General’s investigation, and we also support closer congressional oversight to help ensure that the VA does not fail in its mission to care for wounded, ill and injured veterans and their survivors,” Thien said.
It's alleged that the Phoenix VA Medical Center kept a secret waiting list, which included veterans waiting more than 200 days for an appointment, the Legion said. The hospital also kept a public list that included only patients that would be seen in the next 15 days, a reasonable period intended to make executives look good and earn generous bonuses for the top brass.
"I did support the leaders of the Phoenix hospital being suspended because there was enough smoke," McCain said.
“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,” Dellinger said in an op-ed. “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.”
One of the veterans was James Pert who served as a Marine in Vietnam, according to the Legion. He had been diagnosed with skin cancer, diabetes and Post Traumatic Stress. Pert died as he waited for a medical appointment at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.
The American Legion currently has about 2.4 million members in 14,000 posts worldwide.
The VFW has nearly 2 million members.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.