May 25th, 2014
03:18 PM ET
5 years ago

Political chatter: On this Memorial Day, VA under the spotlight

(CNN) - As the country remembers service members who lost their lives this Memorial Day, the Veterans Affairs Department continues to face questions about hospitals where veterans died waiting for doctor’s appointments on long, secretive waiting lists.

If you are participating in your local parade, spending extra time with your loved ones or sleeping in, we’ll get you up to speed on the latest in Washington with this comprehensive roundup of all things political.


VA under fire: Wes Moore, author, combat veteran and producer of “Coming Back with Wes Moore,” said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Memorial Day is not an excuse to barbecue or the unofficial start of summer, but is “the loneliest” day of the year for vets who remember the friends who didn’t make it home or struggle to adjust to civilian life.

Meanwhile Washington politicians continue to express outrage over the Veterans Affairs scandal in which 40 people died while waiting for care at one VA facility in Phoenix.

While the agency’s inspector general has launched an investigation into 26 facilities across the country and one of President Barack Obama’s top advisers has gone to Phoenix to investigate, Congress has turned the scandal into a debate over the role of the department. Republicans say its proof that the VA needs to be reformed, and Democrats defend the VA’s role.

Tested in Vietnam, Shinseki finds himself in firestorm over veterans' care

Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said that the VA, which has received more funding over the past decade, is mismanaged.

“We have got to move away from a World War II concept into the 21st century,” Miller said, adding that he doesn’t want to “tear the VA system down” but allow vets to see doctors in the private sector. He welcomed the Veterans Affairs Department's announcement Saturday that vets could seek non-VA care.

"What took so long?" Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said, also welcoming the President’s decision. “This is not a new issue in terms of the backlog,” he said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the “unacceptable” waiting lists are proof that the VA is under-resourced and unable to provide adequate care for an additional 2 million veterans entering the system after more than a decade of fighting two wars.

Sanders said the VA needs to say, “‘We don't have the resources,’ and if you want people in 14 days, we're going to need more doctors, we're going to need more nurses, we're going to need more staffing.” He added that the care that vets do receive is “good to excellent.”

Criminal charges? A Democratic senator, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that inspector general investigations are inadequate, and he called on the Department of Justice to get involved.

“We're talking now about evidence, credible and specific evidence, of criminal wrongdoing across the country,” he said.

Immediate action: On “Face the Nation,” Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, said “the President has waited way too long to get into this.” Obama addressed the scandal for the first time last week in a news conference.

Confronting crisis the norm for Obama's White House

Derek Bennett with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said he had hoped for more from the President.

“At some point, we have to stop studying and actually start action,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki should be held accountable if allegations of cover-ups and secretive waiting lists are proven true.

“At some point the chief executive, the chairman, whoever it is, has to take responsibility for the entire organization and his performance,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The latest mass shooting: The tragic mass shooting near Santa Barbara, California, that left seven dead, including the gunman, and 13 injured brought the issues of gun control and mental health care back into national focus.

Blumenthal said he hoped the tragedy “will provide a opportunity to bring back measures that will keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people who are severely troubled or deranged like this young man was, and provide resources.”

Previous efforts at gun control after other mass shootings, including the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, failed to pass Congress.

Blumenthal also called for the passage bills that focus on mental health, something that Thune said Republicans could support.

Lawmakers can “ensure that we have policies in place that allow people with mental health issues like these to be diagnosed and to be treated.” Thune said.

Thune did not mention guns, indicating that Republicans have little appetite to bring up gun control legislation.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said that someone had contacted the Santa Barbara mental health department about shooter Elliot Rodger in April, but it was determined that he wasn’t a danger to himself or others.

California killer's parents frantically searched for son during shooting

But Brown said on “State of the Union” that “there's a general lack of resources in community mental health treatment generally.”

“And there's also probably a lack of notification by health care professionals in instances where people are expressing suicidal, or in certain cases homicidal, thoughts or tendencies. And it's a delicate question. And it's a delicate balance,” Brown said.

Inside Rodger's car police found three handguns - all legally purchased - and more than 400 rounds of unused ammunition.

Rodger passed the background check needed to buy the firearm used in the shooting, a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation told CNN. The official said nothing had been found in the gun trace to indicate Rodger should have been disqualified.

Ukrainian elections: Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, is in Kiev, Ukraine, where billionaire Petro Poroshenko declared victory Sunday in national elections for the country's next President.

She said turnout was high in the capital and throughout the country except in Donetsk and Lugansk, where pro-Russian separatists are creating a dangerous situation.

Ukrainians vote in key presidential election despite eastern unrest

“And I just want to make clear there is one person to blame for that security situation, and that is (Russian President) Vladimir Putin,” Ayotte said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Chinese theft of intellectual property: After the United States charged five Chinese military officers of stealing trade secrets from American companies, former Ambassador to China and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman said the charges are “symbolic.”

The gesture “probably will cost us a whole lot more than it's costing them,” Huntsman said, as China is likely to retaliate to the charges in some way. “For every action, there's a reaction, and I fully expect that there will be a reaction by the Chinese to what we have done.”

Beijing denounces U.S. hacking charges against Chinese army officers

But Huntsman also noted that the theft of intellectual property, most of it by China, costs the U.S. $300 billion per year.

Football: The controversial name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins reached a new level in politics this week when 50 Democratic senators signed a letter to the NFL, urging officials to force the team to change its name.

Senate Dems pressure NFL to change Redskins’ name

ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth said on “This Week” that “there’s no question” that it’s “time to change the name.”

“It’s a pejorative term,” Schlereth said.

Kicker: Obama visits troops in Afghanistan this Memorial Day

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Gurgyl

    Stop this VA bs, bring under ACA Law.

    May 25, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  2. Thomas

    Thank you , those who have giving so much .

    May 25, 2014 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  3. joe mama

    There are 3000 Federal Cops at the VA who should have investigated every complaint made.These Federal Police officers get their budgets from Directors Which is a conflict of interest. The Federal Veterans Affairs Police need to be moved under a Central office in DC or another agency such as the Federal Protective Service or Home land Security so they are not hindered in conducting investigations at the Department Of veterans Affairs Facitlities.

    May 25, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  4. R F Costello

    Bernie Sanders is living in a different world!

    May 25, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  5. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    # Save our Vet's from the VA
    # PUBLIC UNIONS FOREVER

    May 25, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  6. Mike

    They deny poor vets medicaid. Republicans want to strip vets of their veterans insurance.

    May 25, 2014 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  7. Will Sanderson

    If a between is having medical problems that are getting worse and their va appointment is a month away can't they go to a local emergency room like the rest of America. No disrespect but the va not built for emergencies. The vets that passed away waiting wasn't all the Va's fault , most had family to take them to the hospital. My father was a disabled veteren , I took him to the emergency room if he had a medical problem that couldn't wait for a month till he saw the va doctor, and no his passing wasn't connected to the Va's medical care.

    May 25, 2014 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  8. Mike

    supplemental plans through the exchanges to compliment veterans insurance and expand medicaid for all the poor including poor vets, not all vets get veterans insurance, there are a quarter of a million vets denied medicaid

    May 25, 2014 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  9. brownbuttonglutton

    Obama lied, veterans died.

    May 25, 2014 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  10. don in albuquerque

    RF Costello
    Yeah, the real one. Unlike the GOTP who are hopelessly bewildered somewhere in OZ.

    May 25, 2014 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  11. J Anthony

    @RF Costello: no, Sanders is right. And unlike his peers in Congress, he tries to do something about it.. the VA does need and deserve more resources, M..D.s, and a streamlined administration, acccording to the vets themselves. What world are you living in?

    May 25, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  12. warthog6

    Hey Shinseki,

    Richard Simmons called. He said you need to toughen up and act like a man.

    May 25, 2014 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  13. Mike

    we have the most vets ever seeing treatment from the longest running wars in history, we need more facilities and more personnel to take care of our vets

    May 25, 2014 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  14. Smitty

    A preview of Obumbles care, lord help us.

    May 25, 2014 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  15. ja

    Treatment of vets, should be as there're deployment, but then some wars are unjust and built on lies,

    May 25, 2014 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  16. Scottish Mama

    Gurgy is right.

    May 25, 2014 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  17. king

    Congress is the body who has the power of the purse. It is their job .to properly fund the va. All they have to do is dont lesson to the tea party who wants to end government as we know it and write legislation to fund the va so that the president can sign into law. The president on the other hand need to get competent manager who will root out the intrenched bureaucracy which has persist in the va for decades.

    May 25, 2014 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  18. tony

    to those people who blame all these scandals to bush, you are all idiots. he is the sitting president so everything happens under his watch, he is responsible. period. dont blame around

    May 25, 2014 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  19. America1st

    Republicans cut $350,000,000 from security for the embassies. Consequence? Benghazi, yet they feign outrage and pretend innocence. They cut $43,000,000,000 from VA care. Consequence? Service is sparingly given out and they feign outrage and pretend innocence. They privatized Walter Reed medical care to friends of the Bush family. Consequence? Veterans were put 16 deep into molded beds and an underfunded facility. They feign outrage and pretend innocence. HERE WE GO AGAIN. The only scandal going on is once again Darrell Issa about to get unlimited funds for another investigation to cover up their own involvement in all these serious issues. GOP – corruption at it's finest. The only people they support are billionaires. Not even support for the small business guy any more.

    May 25, 2014 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  20. America1st

    Well, as long as he "legally" purchased these guns, despite mental issues, I guess the NRA will come to this lunatics defense. God Bless America and our gun carrying fanatics.

    May 25, 2014 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  21. Portlandtony

    @ joe mama ....the mission of the VA's police force is to "Deliver professional law enforcement and security services, while maintaining law and order, and the protection of persons and property on VA campuses and building’s under the jurisdiction of the Department of Veterans Affairs." In other words they provide "security" only. They are not responsible for any medical or administrative "malpractice". Sadly, the complaints to congressional offices across the country have fell on deaf ears....Representative committees like the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee led by Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) ...are too busy bashing democrats for petty political gain than trying to fix a long known problem with staffing etc at VA centers.
    Shame on both parties for ignoring our veterans!

    May 25, 2014 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  22. GOP Block Party continue

    Senate GOP Blocks Veterans Benefits Bill
    By Arlette Saenz
    @ArletteSaenz
    Feb 27, 2014 3:31pm
    Senate Republicans derailed efforts to move forward with a $21 billion bill to enhance health care, education and job benefits for veterans.
    Republicans stopped the veterans bill from moving on a procedural vote, which needed 60 votes. The final tally was 56-41.
    Republicans and Democrats normally agree on the need to enhance benefits for the nation’s 22 million veterans and their families, but Republican senators wanted to lower the amount of spending in the bill. The GOP senators also wanted to include a measure that would have imposed new sanctions against Iran, which President Obama has warned against doing at this time. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blocked the amendments from being considered.
    “Shame on the Republicans for bringing base politics into a bill to help the veterans,” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday morning.
    The bill would have improved benefits for veterans, including better health care and dental services provided by the VA. It also would have guaranteed post-9/11 veterans access to in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities in any state.
    SHOWS: This Week World News

    May 25, 2014 11:25 pm at 11:25 pm |
  23. J.V.Hodgson

    CNN has been saying 40 deaths and Miller says 26... who is correct I do like facts even nasty horrible ones. No vet should die because he/she is on a too long waiting list.
    Despite the huffing and puffing oversight failed to fix the problem either in the house or senate.
    Demanding Shinseki's resignation for " accountability" is shoot from the hip and ask questions later or worse still guilty until proved innocent.
    If oversight achieved nothing or no changes/improvements then it failed and they are only slightly less " accountable" than the people who managed to deceive them, the inspectors general and the ,local administrators who cooked the books and took until now to blow the whistle.
    Regards,
    hodgson

    May 25, 2014 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  24. TankerVet

    I wish that just this once, that the law breakers would quit hiding and admit their wrong doings and accept punishment.

    May 25, 2014 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  25. Thaddeus

    I find it interesting that all the VA troubles happened in ((RED States)).

    What are the local Republican governors doing to help our vets?

    Aren't they looking for ways to cut-back on government services for the most neediest people in their states while giving the rich bigger tax breaks?
    Perhaps if the deficit hawks are successful, they will do major damage to society and the economy. They are promoting a deficit hysteria in an effort to force the government to enact deep cuts in vital social programs like (the VA), Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
    Republicans still have no better economic policy than to give more taxpayer money to the wealthy and corporations.
    Let's investigate the GOP for a moment:

    1. The GOP House tried to cut $300 million from embassy security, just prior to Benghazi
    2, The GOP conveniently ignores 14 separate Benghazi's under Bush
    3. The GOP conveniently ignores 398 killed overseas under Reagan
    4. The PATHETIC GOP is raising election cash exploiting 4 dead Americans while investigating??????
    5. The GOP DESTROYED the economy under Bush, and has record Senate filibusters & the GOP House has accomplished the LEAST amount of work in 50 years.
    Republicans stand for nothing and are against everything.

    May 26, 2014 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
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