(CNN) - Major veterans’ groups this Memorial Day weekend harshly criticized the top Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee after he charged that the leaders of the service organizations are too cozy with embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and won’t call for him to resign despite allegations of mismanagement and wrongdoing in his department.
Sen. Richard Burr accused them of being “more interested in their own livelihoods and Washington connections than they are to the needs of their own members.”
“A monumental cheap-shot” is what the leaders of the Veterans of Foreign Wars called the accusations by the North Carolina Republican, which were included in an “open letter” the senator issued to veterans on Friday. The VFW said Burr was engaged in a “disgusting ambush style of politics.”
“Senator, this is clearly one of the most dishonorable and grossly inappropriate acts that we’ve witnessed in more than forty years of involvement with the veteran community and breaches that standards of the United States Senate,” the VFW statement said. “Your allegations are ugly and mean-spirited in every sense of the word and are profoundly wrong, both logically and morally.”
Another group, Disabled American Veterans, said they were “outraged” Burr - one in a handful of Senate Republicans who have called on Shinseki to resign - would choose Memorial Day weekend to criticize the groups.
“Regrettably, Senator Burr shows no interest in pursuing serious policy solutions, preferring instead to launch cheap political attacks on the integrity of leaders of veterans organizations that do not agree with him, all of whom served honorably to defend this nation and then devoted all or most of their lives to servicing fellow veterans,” the DAV statement said.
“You clearly represent the worst of politics in this country,” said the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
In his letter, Burr criticized six of the seven veterans’ service organizations, known as VSOs, that testified at a recent Senate hearing on problems in the VA health system. In particular, the hearing examined allegations veterans died while on secret waiting lists for doctor appointments.
Only the American Legion, which has called for Shinseki to go, escaped Burr’s criticism.
“It became clear at the hearing that most of the other VSOs attending appear to be more interested in defending the status quo with VA, protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the Secretary and his inner circle,” Burr said.
But Burr really hit a nerve when he accused the “Washington executive staff of the VSOs” of not having the “interests of their members at heart.”
“Last week’s hearing made it clear to me that the staff has ignored the constant VA problems expressed by their members and is more interested in their own livelihoods and Washington connections than they are to the needs of their own members,” Burr said.
“The VFW staff you chose to rebuke and whose principles you have questioned walk the walk,” the VFW responded. “They’ve been there, done that and some have the scars to show for it. Collectively, those same staff members have among them more than 47 combat deployments.”
Asked Monday about the strong response from the VSOs, an aide to Burr provided a fresh statement from the senator: "The VSOs response is a rousing defense of the status quo at VA. It's clear that my open letter to America's veterans has outraged some VSOs more than the scandals at VA - I believe their testimony stands on its own."
For its part, a VFW spokesman told CNN Monday the group has no idea why Burr went after them.
“We really have no idea,” said Joe Davis. “It was a total surprise.”