May 25th, 2014
03:18 PM ET
9 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.

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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. Mike

    Obama prepares to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. His 2015 budget establishes a vets corps to employ vets, educate vets, gets homeless vets off the streets, and strengthen vets heath services.
    While republicans use a phony media report to destroy the reputation of a decorated war hero and use vets like pawns in their latest political scandal targeting the president.

    May 26, 2014 01:36 am at 1:36 am |
  2. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    FACT: We need to do better by our veterans and active-duty military personnel.

    FACT: This problem has been around since the founding of our country. For the RWNJs and their media mouthpieces to try to make this into a political issue and blame President Obama is typical of their contempt for our nation and unending desire to put party ahead of country.

    May 26, 2014 01:57 am at 1:57 am |
  3. texasnotea

    Republican Jeff Mi;;er of Florida needs to turn over all of his emails and correspondence with complaining vets so we can get to the bottom of who is really responsible for this debacle.

    May 26, 2014 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  4. Brigitta Ross

    Thank you 2 President Obama for visiting our troops in Afghanistan- now let's clean up the VA so our veterans can get the best care they deserve.

    May 26, 2014 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  5. sandy

    How cute, O visits the troops in Afghanistan so he can pretend he cares.

    May 26, 2014 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  6. smith

    So I see the anti-gun people were out in force over the killings in CA. Three of the victims were stabbed to death yet the anti-gun crowd cares only about the people who were shot. Murder is murder, you look really stupid when you get all up in arms about someone being shot and then stay silent when someone is stabbed to death.

    May 26, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  7. tom smith

    Not on medical..but on benefits we were never briefed on..I served my country for ten years of active complaints..proud of it and would do it again...the issue is, after getting out, I was never told there was a time limit of ten years that I had to use my VA for education...when I call the VA...they said sorry, you have no VA educational benefits...why...why is it that there is a deadline...nothing ever given to me either verbally or in the military saying goes...I am SOL

    May 26, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  8. Thomas

    How cute, O visits the troops in Afghanistan so he can pretend he cares.


    Former Vice President Dick Cheney said he couldn’t say for sure if the “suffering and blood in Afghanistan was worth it .

    However , he did extremely good financially over the last 14 YEARS .

    May 26, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  9. 1776usa2016

    Accountable is every Congress and administration going back 50 years for failing to deal with the problems at the VA.

    You have a cast of thousands of politicians that had a hand in manufacturing the crisis.

    After every single war it is the same thing. Funding is not ramped up quick enough and to a sufficient level far enough in advance to deal with the crushing influx of veterans returning home from the war.

    This theme has repeated itself time and time again going back to the very beginnings of the VA.


    May 26, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  10. Donna

    Unfortunately we have a person in the White House that is more interested in photo ops and stunts than actually doing something about problems. All he does is talk, tal and talk,make excuses and blame others.

    May 26, 2014 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  11. Greatmutato

    Let there be no mistake. Reducing the budget of the VA and placing significant obstacles in the way of veterans to obtain health care has been a major goal of the GOP.

    May 26, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  12. Liberal_garbage

    This is the fabulous system democrats want the rest of our country to be in. Garbage policies

    May 26, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  13. anthony78

    How cute, O visits the troops in Afghanistan so he can pretend he cares.

    While you type this from the safety of your home or job.
    Whens the last time YOU visited the troops out fighting for our freedom on foreign, hostile soils?

    May 26, 2014 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  14. Robert N. constant

    For decades the VA has been underfunded. Nevertheless, it has held guidelines and limits on how long a veteran should have to wait for an examination. What seems to have happened is that regional Selective Service people in the system have fallen behind these guidelines and falsified the reports sent to Washington. to avoid criticism and/or disciplinary actions being taken against them.
    The timing of this "news" breaking now is not coincidental, any more than the resurrection of Monica Lewinsky, the Benghazi "witch hunts," Karl Rove's pronouncements on Hillary Clinton, etc. etc. etc.
    The GOP jad hoped to run on Obamacare. That hope has backfired. They cannot run on a steadily improving economy, They know they are in trouble with women , gays, environmentalists, Medicare recipients, etc. Etc.
    In the absence of any substantive issues, they are manufacturing issues.
    Chuck Hagel resigned from the VA because things were so bad way back then under Ronald Reagan. . They have not improved with GOP wars and budget cuts.
    Blaming this on Patriotic General Shinseki is one more instance of how low Republicans can go. .

    May 26, 2014 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  15. bad news

    There is reason to be concerned when the commander and chief fails to take action to ensure proper care for veterans. When history is written, this president will go down as the leader of scandals.

    May 26, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  16. m123

    32K troops in Afghan still
    Who knows how many thousands of CIA sponsored mercenaries.
    Yeah, this is the Peace Prize Pres
    I'm shocked Bush didn't win a Peace Prize
    No more a warmonger than Obama

    May 26, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  17. sandy

    This scandal will stick. Sorry Hill, O pretty much sunk your run for POTUS. But really what difference does it make now?!

    May 26, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
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