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House GOP Leaders Call for Obama to Be Active in Fixing VA System

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The top four House Republicans sent President Barack Obama a letter on Wednesday morning, making requests and seeking solutions in the aftermath of the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

Speaker John A. Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers wrote that, less than a week after VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation , Obama must now make short- and long-term plans to address the systemic failures that led to the patient backlogs at veterans' hospitals around the country.  

In doing so, they formalized in writing many of the complaints they have already been making regarding the Obama administration's handling of veterans' issues and continued to put pressure on the president as the midterm elections approach. "It is imperative that you lay out for the American people your vision for reforming what is clearly a broken system," the four GOP leaders wrote. "Are you willing to do whatever it takes, pending the results of the investigations that are underway, to ensure our veterans get the care we owe them, even if it means shaking up the current bureaucracy and rethinking the entire system? Do you agree the VA is a system that may need to be fundamentally transformed in order to meet its mandate of service and care to our nation's veterans?  

"The VA scandal is a national disgrace," they continued, "and Americans are eager to know the extent of your willingness to personally take action in order to make things right for those who have served."  

Boehner, Cantor, McCarthy and McMorris Rodgers capped off their pointed suggestion that Obama may not be doing enough to help veterans by making three specific requests.  

First, they said, Obama should "publicly call on Senate Democrats to reconsider their obstruction" of House-passed legislation providing the VA secretary with the authority to fire or demote under-performing senior officials. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered Senate Republicans a compromise on Tuesday wherein they would vote on the House's bill in exchange for not blocking consideration of a different VA bill offered by Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.  

Next, said the Republican leaders, Obama must "direct the VA to cooperate with the House and Senate as both chambers conduct the necessary oversight.  

"As you may ... know," they continued, "the department has repeatedly failed to provide the House Veterans' Affairs Committee with timely information. This is unacceptable and unnecessary."  

Finally, they called on Obama to support legislation soon to be introduced by House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., that would "give any veteran unable to obtain an appointment within 30 days the option to receive non-VA care."  

"We ask that you support this proposal, or offer an immediate, effective alternative," they wrote.  

In the days before Shinseki agreed to step down in a gesture of taking responsibility for the misconduct that had occurred within the lower ranks of his agency, Republican leaders were reluctant to join the growing chorus of calls on both sides of the aisle for the VA secretary's head, preferring instead to keep the onus on Obama for as long as possible.  

McCarthy was the only House GOP leader to break from that unspoken agreement to stay mum on the matter.  

Here is the full letter:

Dear Mr. President: We write to express deep concern regarding the systemic problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs and its affiliated Veterans Health Administration facilities. You recently announced that Secretary Shinseki resigned and that you intend to replace him. We do not believe this addresses the fundamental problem – which is the abject failure of the department to meet the needs of our veterans. Much more needs to be done. “Our first job,” you said last week, “is let’s take care of some basic management issues.” We agree, which is why, last month, the House voted overwhelmingly to pass H.R. 4031, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act. This legislation provides the Secretary of Veterans Affairs with the authority to remove or demote senior officials who are underperforming. This is much-needed given your own audit’s findings that “some front-line, middle, and senior managers felt compelled to manipulate” records to meet performance goals. Unfortunately, as you may know, Senate Democrats blocked the measure, after it received 390 votes in the House. We ask that you publicly call on Senate Democrats to reconsider their obstruction, and immediately pass H.R. 4031 so we can begin to address these “basic management issues.” Next, we request that you direct the VA to cooperate with the House and Senate as both chambers conduct the necessary oversight. As you may also know, the department has repeatedly failed to provide the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee with timely information. This is unacceptable and unnecessary. You yourself have said that addressing this problem should not be politicized, which is why we hope this will not continue to be an issue. Third, your administration has proposed to “triage” 1,700 veterans who are waiting for care in Phoenix, Arizona. In light of the systemic nature of this problem, however, how will you address veterans who are waiting for care across the country? All veterans on waiting lists should be able to easily access care outside the VA without waiting for a potentially corrupt facility to approve their request. Our veterans should not be left in limbo, relying on what your own audit acknowledges is a “systemic lack of integrity within some Veterans Health Administration facilities.” In the House, Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller is introducing legislation that would give any veteran unable to obtain an appointment within 30 days the option to receive non-VA care. We ask that you support this proposal, or offer an immediate, effective alternative. While all of these are strong first steps, none are a substitute for long-term solutions. It is imperative that you lay out for the American people your vision for reforming what is clearly a broken system. Are you willing to do whatever it takes, pending the results of the investigations that are underway, to ensure our veterans get the care we owe them, even if it means shaking up the current bureaucracy and rethinking the entire system? Do you agree the VA is a system that may need to be fundamentally transformed in order to meet its mandate of service and care to our nation's veterans? The VA scandal is a national disgrace, and Americans are eager to know the extent of your willingness to personally take action in order to make things right for those who have served. We look forward to your response to our short-term requests as well as your long-term plan to ensure that we keep our promises to our veterans and their families. Sincerely, Rep. John Boehner Rep. Eric Cantor Rep. Kevin McCarthy Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers