Virginia lawmakers, candidates see resignation as welcome news

By Joe Beck

Congressional officeholders and candidates greeted the resignation Friday of Eric Shinseki as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs as mostly positive news that represents only the beginning of what is needed to fix the troubled agency.

Several of them, all Virginia Democrats, had already called for Shinseki’s resignation before President Obama announced the retired general’s departure after a face-to-face meeting between the two.

Shinseki resigned amid a growing scandal at the agency’s medical facilities involving long delays in scheduling appointments for thousands of veterans and accusations that top officials had covered up the extent of waiting lists. Shinseki told a veterans group early Friday that he had begun firing the top managers at the VA medical center in Phoenix, which has drawn the most criticism for its management practices.

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, called Shinseki’s resignation “appropriate given how long he’s served and how this problem has developed and gotten worse while the agency was under his control.”

Most of the veterans in Goodlatte’s district, which runs southward from Shenandoah and Warren counties, are served by VA facilities in Salem and Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Goodlatte said in a telephone interview that his staff closely tracks messages from veterans seeking help in obtaining services from the VA in Martinsburg and Salem.

“We have not been made aware of deep and endemic problems like the problems they’ve had in Phoenix,” Goodlattte said, adding, “We’re keeping a very close watch and meet periodically with members of the VA” to discuss the agency’s services.

Goodlatte called the VA scandal an issue primarily about management practices, not lack of money. He called on Obama and Senate Democrats to act quickly to pass a bill approved last week by the House that would give the VA secretary more authority to fire senior employees.

“If this kind of thing took place in the private hospital system, heads would roll, no doubt about it,” Goodlatte said of the waiting lists and accusations of a related cover-up.

Goodlatte said he has not been calling for Shinseki’s resignation, but Virginia’s two Democratic senators and a local Democratic congressional candidate were among those urging a change in VA leadership.

John Foust, the Democratic candidate in the 10th District, issued a news release calling for Shinseki’s resignation hours before the President’s announcement.

“The monumental failure of the VA to provide the highest level of care that our veterans have earned is unacceptable,” Foust said. “Secretary Shinseki has served our country honorably, but it is time for him to resign.”

Del. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, Foust’s opponent, called the resignation “a step forward” and the treatment of veterans seeking VA services “shameful.”

“Congress and the administration must fully investigate these failures, ensure this never happens again, punish those responsible and provide our veterans with the health system and benefits they have earned and deserve,” Comstock said.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine had signaled collapsing support for Shinseki among members of the president’s party on Wednesday. They issued news releases after an inspector general’s preliminary report reaffirmed many of the most serious allegations about the medical center in Phoenix.

“Despite assurances from VA leadership that the issue is being addressed and improved, the latest revelations, including widespread falsification of records, demonstrate the systemic nature of the problem and efforts to solve it have not been successful,” Kaine said in his written statement.

Warner said he was “outraged” and also called for Shinseki to “step aside in order to allow our focus and our efforts to be on making the critically needed changes to fix the VA”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com