House Speaker John Boehner tore into Veterans Affairs leadership Wednesday, alleging that nearly a year after then-Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid the scandal over veterans care, his successors have done little to fix the agency — or even discipline those involved in the wait-times crisis.
“Just one person has been fired. One,” Boehner said in a scathing House floor speech. “What the hell happened to the rest of them? ”
He appealed for the agency to take care of America’s veterans as well as they take care “of the bureaucrats.”
Boehner, R-Ohio, said he is especially frustrated that so few VA officials have been fired, despite evidence that at least 110 VA facilities kept secret lists to manipulate and hide long wait-times.
In February, VA Secretary Robert McDonald claimed in a TV interview that the department had “fired” 60 people connected with the scandal.
That estimate was later revised down to 14. But The New York Times reported in late April that, according to documents given to Congress, only one person had actually been fired — Phoenix VA hospital director Sharon Helman. Another retired under pressure and another’s “termination” was pending. Several others were disciplined in other ways.
Boehner likened some of the punishments to a “slap on the wrist,” noting some got transfers and others got paid leave. And “all of them went on collecting checks from taxpayers,” he said.
Further, Boehner said, the number of patients facing long waits is about the same as it was last year, while the number of patients waiting more than 90 days has nearly doubled.
The VA’s problems are so deep that — despite a new law that overhauled the agency and authorized $16 billion in new spending over three years — it can’t even build a hospital, Boehner said, referring to a half-finished project in Denver that is $1 billion over budget.
Boehner said more legislation to hold the VA accountable is likely.
“But only the administration can change the culture from within,” he said.
As Memorial Day approaches, President Obama “owes the American people a real, long-term plan to fix the VA,” Boehner said. “Not a promise or a pledge or a rearranging of deck chairs: a real plan to clean up this mess.”
A VA representative has not yet responded to a request for comment on Boehner’s allegations.