House committee chair calls VA response 'unacceptable'
May 20th, 2014
02:31 PM ET
7 months ago

House committee chair calls VA response 'unacceptable'

Washington (CNN) - House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller says the response by the Department of Veterans Affairs to a subpoena from his committee over allegations of deadly health care delays has been "very weak" and "unacceptable."

The Florida Republican told CNN that if the embattled agency doesn't provide more details about the information sought earlier this month, the committee could move to hold the VA in contempt.

"It baffles me that they have 30 individuals working full time on the subpoena and they can only get 201 emails," Miller said.

He said the VA informed the committee it would send materials in "a rolling block," but he strongly rejected that approach and sent Secretary Eric Shinseki a letter on Monday pressing for more information on the documents.

The VA is under fire over allegations of deadly patient wait times and a cover up at its hospitals. Last month, CNN revealed that at least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, according to sources inside the hospital and a doctor who worked there.

Many were placed on a secret waiting list, the sources said. The House subpoena included a request for e-mails about allegations around the list. Phoenix VA officials have denied any knowledge of a secret list, and said they never ordered any staff to hide waiting times.

Both sides frustrated

The top Democrat on the House committee, Rep Michael Michaud, a Maine Democrat, also told reporters that both sides are frustrated with the response so far.

"We do not want to give them more time if they don't need that time – if this is in fact is a delay. There has been a credibility problem within the VA and that's one of the reason why we're concerned," Michaud said.

Miller said his committee is hearing from whistleblowers at various VA facilities about more deaths they claim are due to an inadequate system in place to schedule medical care. But he declined to give a number, or whether the committee has been able to verify the reports.

In response to Miller's comments, the VA said in a statement that it began turning over documents, as promised, on Monday and would "continue providing information on a rolling basis," noting that it was a "customary practice followed by executive branch agencies when responding to a subpoena, and consistent with the subpoena itself."

The statement said the agency has devoted "significant resources to the effort," which includes sorting through email records.

Miller said he has not heard from Rob Nabors, the top Obama administration official recently tasked with addressing the response to the scandal.

"He's the guy they brought in to control the spin from the central office – purely was put in there from the White House because it was spinning out of control," he said.

White House official heading to Phoenix

Separately, the White House said on Tuesday that Nabors will head to Phoenix to interview the interim director of the Phoenix VA office and others associated with the office.

Miller said he's not planning to call Shinseki to testify, saying his testimony before a Senate panel last week was "not worthy of second appearance."
Shinseki told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee that he was "mad as hell" about the allegations against the VA, and had no plans to resign. He urged lawmakers to wait for the results of an inspector general investigation before reaching any conclusion about the matter.

Millar reiterated his call for President Barack Obama to get more personally involved in the addressing issues with the VA.

"I've been asking the President to get involved for three years. This type of problem demands leadership from the top – it's been lacking. I don't think the President thinks this is important and I think the American people are going to show him how important it is because of the outrage that they have been expressing," Miller said.

White House Chief of staff Denis McDonough met with House Democrats at their weekly caucus meeting on Tuesday, and told them the administration is doing everything it can to get to the bottom of what happened at Veterans Affairs.

Previous problems

Shinseki and other administration officials are pointing out that many of the problems began under President George W Bush.

But Miller noted that when details emerged about conditions at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the treatment of veterans there several years ago, Bush acted quickly: "A secretary of the Army, the Army chief of staff, and the head of Walter Reed all gone."

Miller and Michaud plan to meet Tuesday to discuss next steps, but asked if he may hold Shinseki in contempt, Miller told CNN "if you don't comply with a subpoena that is certainly an avenue that you can follow."

CNN's Paul Courson contributed to this report


Filed under: Veterans • Veterans Affairs
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Bruce

    There's s surprise...a republican saying the response from the democrats is "weak". What did we expect from this partisan group of do-nothing congress.

    May 20, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  2. Lynda/Minnesota

    "The Florida Republican told CNN that if the embattled agency doesn't provide more details about the information sought earlier this month, the committee could move to hold the VA in contempt."

    The alternate plan would of course be that all parties involved work together to come up with a plan that would help the embattled agency get the job done by offering top of the line service for our veterans.

    But, no. We're going to continue to point fingers and nothing well be accomplished one way or another.

    Welcome to the New American Way: fast and furious finger-pointing political gridlock.

    May 20, 2014 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  3. Tommy G

    Well, we now have a name for the strategy and tactics that the Obama administration has been using for all of its scandals. We can call it the VA Strategy. No matter what the scandal, all requests for information will be added to the secret list of requests for information until the scandal dies from lack of attention and information.

    Unfortunately, the Obama administration has extended this strategy to its management of the VA and our vets are dying because of it and now they just want to stonewall some more, while more die. The massive incompetence of the Obama administration continues to kill this country, its economy, and now its veterans.

    Anybody voting for these people must truly hate this country.

    May 20, 2014 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  4. Donna

    Bruce
    There's s surprise...a republican saying the response from the democrats is "weak". What did we expect from this partisan group of do-nothing congress.
    --–

    Why bother commenting when you obviously didn't even read the article?

    Both sides frustrated
    The top Democrat on the House committee, Rep Michael Michaud, a Maine Democrat, also told reporters that both sides are frustrated with the response so far.
    "We do not want to give them more time if they don't need that time – if this is in fact is a delay. There has been a credibility problem within the VA and that's one of the reason why we're concerned," Michaud said.

    May 20, 2014 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  5. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Good lord is everything President Obama's fault? I thought this ish started in 2001..... I do believe Prince George had been appointed to the position of POTUS in 2000. Hell maybe I'm wrong.

    May 20, 2014 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  6. bill

    I wonder where he will be this year?

    Every year the French have a 4 day celebration in Normandy complete with American uniforms, tanks, jeeps and guns. They still honor the Americans who died there.

    In all the years since, Our country has only FOUR TIMES not been there to do the honors.

    Four times in 69 years!! I wonder who would have had the lack of respect to not honor our fighting forces?

    SHAME ON AMERICA FOR ELECTING A NON-VETERAN PRESIDENT WHO DOES NOT
    DESERVE TO BE THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF: HE IS ABSOLUTELY A DISGRACE TO
    ALL WHO FOUGHT FOR THIS NATION AND GAVE THEIR LIVES.

    VETERANS – PLEASE FORWARD THIS TO YOUR VETERAN FRIENDS AND
    CONTACTS!!!!!!

    June 6, 2013, the 69th anniversary of "D-Day", the largest invasion ever attempted, where 200,000 Americans stormed the beaches at Normandy to begin the final push to defeat Nazi Germany in WWII. D-Day marked the turning point in WWII in Europe . Today, European heads of state make it a point to recall and honor the sacrifices of those who landed in Normandy , as do our Presidents....well, most of them....

    In the 69 years since D-Day, there are four occasions when the President of the United States chose not to visit the D-Day Monument that honors the soldiers killed during the Invasion.

    The occasions were:

    1. Barack Obama, 2010
    2. Barack Obama, 2011
    3. Barack Obama, 2012
    4. Barack Obama, 2013

    For the past 69 years, every American President except Obama have taken the time to honor the memory and sacrifices of the 6,000 American soldiers killed on D-Day. ...Except Obama!

    June 6 2010,
    Obama had no events scheduled.

    June 6, 2011,
    Obama met with the National Security team and was interviewed by WEWS Cleveland and WDIV in Detroit about the auto industry – FAR too busy to visit the D-Day memorial.

    June 6, 2012,
    instead of honoring our fallen soldiers, Obama made a campaign trip to California on Air Force 1 (at our expense) to raise funds for (his) upcoming election.

    June 6, 2013,
    Obama was doing ANOTHER fund raiser with the multimillionaires in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Palo Alto CA , once again at our expense.

    America – Aren't you proud?

    May 20, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  7. truth hurts but reality bites

    Why does it not surprise me that Obama has remained silent on this scandal when several times in earlier years, he acknowledged the problem and said it would be fixed. Almost 6 years later, it is still there and worse than ever.

    Why does it also not surprise me that their first act is to send in a political hack to spin the story.

    And all this as more and more has been spent by the VA. In true form, Democrats think just throwing money at a problem is all it takes.

    May 20, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  8. Mike

    If the Republicans try the Obama blame game like CNN's John King did on Sunday. They will end up with Elephant poop on their face. When Bush left Office he provided President Obama with a signed memo which admitted that the VA was a disaster that he had not been able to fix. So if you want to say that Obama did not work a miracle to turn this Bush debacle around , fine. Just don't even think about blaming Obama for creating this shameful mess.

    May 20, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  9. Dave

    Well there's a surprise, the administration still blaming Bush, and the president, who campaigned on fixing the VA, reads about this scandal in the newspapers. It's a good thing he has so much free time to read the papers or he'd be clueless on the goings-on within the government he leads.

    May 20, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  10. Mike

    Bill said above "SHAME ON AMERICA FOR ELECTING A NON-VETERAN PRESIDENT WHO DOES NOT
    DESERVE TO BE THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF"
    Hmm like the Non Veteran Romney that he ran against ? And the multiple deferral from service Cheney ?

    May 20, 2014 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  11. Chris-E...al

    @Bill 0bama can count all of his family members in america on one left hand why should 0bama CARE ?

    May 20, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  12. Silence DoGood

    @Mike
    Bill said above "SHAME ON AMERICA FOR ELECTING A NON-VETERAN PRESIDENT WHO DOES NOT
    DESERVE TO BE THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF"
    Hmm like the Non Veteran Romney that he ran against ? And the multiple deferral from service Cheney ?
    -----------
    Yes but conservatives are on a mission of Hate and No, so the actual facts are not super important.
    Plus heis comments are in all caps so he must really be an authority (or conspiracist).

    May 20, 2014 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  13. just asking

    Dave
    Well there's a surprise, the administration still blaming Bush, and the president, who campaigned on fixing the VA, reads about this scandal in the newspapers.
    --

    ahhhh..... he was told about it when they transitioned into the white house in 2009. how can he say he is just learning about it on tv? oh yeah, liar of the year for 2014 auditions...

    5.5 years later and the lying clown show called the obama administration marches on. just when you thought it couldn't get any worse than obamacare and an incompetent clueless kathleen sebelius, now we find out the va administration is knowingly killing vets by denying and delaying their treatment. death lists. and the left said it was all a fantasy.

    May 20, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  14. Obamacare of the future, here today

    VA Care today is what Obamacare will be in a few years if you allow the cancer to spread further. You have been warned people. Don't let Obamacare put you and your family members on the wait list for 9 months as you get worse and die before being treated. Isn't this happening in Canada now? Isn;t this why so many Canadians come to the USA for treatment?

    May 20, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  15. Marty

    The Administration doesn't care, the Veterans Administration doesn't care and most of the Congress doesn't care. If the health care of all three came under the VA plan the problem would have been solved already!

    May 20, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  16. Silence DoGood

    @bill
    "I wonder where he will be this year?" (followed by D-Day nonsense)
    --------
    This is an urban legend that has been debunked quite a lot.
    The fact that conspiracy theories and lies and some-email-I-got and what-Rush-said is the sum total of the apparent conservative argument is truly sad.

    May 20, 2014 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  17. Mark

    are they just now finding this out?

    May 20, 2014 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  18. Rudy NYC

    "It baffles me that they have 30 individuals working full time on the subpoena and they can only get 201 emails," Miller said.
    --------------------------------–
    Oh, it might not be so baffling if you could show a little less arrogance, and a little more empathy, and then try to consider the problem from their perspective. It just might be because they had some real work to do on the backlog of cases? Diverting 30 individuals away from case work is a whole lot of people not working on the very problem that you're investigating.

    May 20, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  19. Name jsmallz

    Both sides are to blame. This is the problem with America today it always has to be someone's fault. Just fix the problem so all our great hero's can get the help they need.

    May 20, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  20. smith

    Ok, repubs are mad and the dems are mad. As Lynda said, the parties need to come together and fix the issues at the VA instead playing the blame game.

    May 20, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  21. sonny chapman

    Hey Bill-Do you know where George W, Dick Cheney & John Bolton were in 1968 ? It wasn't in Vietnam.

    May 20, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  22. Rudy NYC

    Mike

    If the Republicans try the Obama blame game like CNN's John King did on Sunday. They will end up with Elephant poop on their face. When Bush left Office he provided President Obama with a signed memo which admitted that the VA was a disaster that he had not been able to fix. So if you want to say that Obama did not work a miracle to turn this Bush debacle around , fine. Just don't even think about blaming Obama for creating this shameful mess.
    ----------------------------------–
    One of the biggest problems at the V.A. are their networks. They use sneaker net. They still the majority of the case handling on plain old paper. Sneaker net means people run from one desk to another, to a file cabinet, to another carrying client folders. Their major filing systems have never been computerized. The V.A. is still operating like it's the 1960s.

    It is a systemic problem that has existed for decades. I do not lay sole blame on Bush-43 for the backlog, but I will blame his administration for not doing anything to anticipate and prepare for hundreds of thousands of new clients. The budget numbers for the V.A. are misleading because they show steadily increasing spending, none of which went into capital upgrades. The Bush administration was more interested in cutting back, as evidenced by their efforts to consolidate and privatize Walter Reed Army Hospital, which is proably the flagship facility of the V.A.

    May 20, 2014 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  23. Rudy NYC

    just asking

    Dave
    Well there's a surprise, the administration still blaming Bush, and the president, who campaigned on fixing the VA, reads about this scandal in the newspapers.
    -

    ahhhh..... he was told about it when they transitioned into the white house in 2009. how can he say he is just learning about it on tv? oh yeah, liar of the year for 2014 auditions...
    ---------------------------–
    I find your post to be entirely dishonest and untruthful.
    You are conflating the long backlogs with the coverups to hide the wait times.
    Besides, if what you suggest is true, then the Bush administration had been hiding the truth for years.

    May 20, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  24. Rudy NYC

    "It baffles me that they have 30 individuals working full time on the subpoena and they can only get 201 emails," Miller said.
    -------------------------–
    Maybe that number suggests just how much, or how little, they rely on email. They use sneaker net, I keep telling you.

    May 20, 2014 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  25. carlos

    We are working with a party that is always intent on fixing blame instead of fixing problems. The Republican party has become the party of retribution. Prosecution for its own sake is not a solution. The problems with the VA have existed for decades, but to Republicans they only exist when there's a Democrat in office.

    May 20, 2014 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
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