In front of local media and a live Internet audience, American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger today called for the resignations of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Under Secretary of Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey.
Dellinger cited poor oversight and failed leadership as the reason for calling for the resignations – something The American Legion hasn’t done regarding a public official in more than 30 years.
“Gen. Eric Shinseki has served his country well,” Dellinger said. “His patriotism and sacrifice for this nation are above reproach. However, his record as the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs tells a different story. The existing leadership has exhibited a pattern of bureaucratic incompetence and failed leadership that has been amplified in recent weeks.”
Dellinger pointed to allegations from multiple whistleblowers of a secret waiting list at the Phoenix VA Health Care System that may have resulted in the death of approximately 40 veterans, that VA previously had acknowledged that 23 veterans throughout the health-care system have died as a result of delayed care in recent years, and a the findings of an investigation by VA’s Office of Medical Inspector that clerks at the VA clinic in Fort Collins, Colo., were instructed last year how to falsify appointment records so it appeared the small staff of doctors was seeing patients within the agency's goal of 14 days, according to the investigation.
“These disturbing reports are part of what appear to be a pattern of scandals that has infected the entire system,” said Dellinger, noting issues that have come up in Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Augusta, Ga. “Those problems need addressed at the highest level – starting with new leadership. The existing leadership has exhibited a pattern of bureaucratic incompetence and failed leadership that has been amplified in recent weeks.”
Dellinger said that the failure to disclose safety information or to cover up mistakes is unforgivable – as is fostering a culture of nondisclosure. “VA leadership has demonstrated its incompetence through preventable deaths of veterans, long wait times for medical care, a benefits claims backlog numbering in excess of 596,000, and the awarding of bonuses to senior executives who have overseen such operations,” he said. “Some veterans have waited years to have their claims decided. That same leadership has failed to provide answers to why these issues continue to occur.”
Dellinger said that while errors and lapses can occur in any system, “The American Legion expects when such errors and lapses are discovered, that they are dealt with swiftly and that the responsible parties are held accountable. This has not happened at the Department of Veterans Affairs. There needs to be a change, and that change needs to occur at the top. “
When asked by media what the Legion would do if the trio didn’t resign, Dellinger said a draft of the request was being sent to the White House. “This is a very serious situation,” he said. “The administration needs to take steps now. It’s long overdue. Whenever you’re talking about a patient’s life – a veteran’s life – in jeopardy, it’s always serious.”
Dellinger also wrote an op-ed piece calling for the resignations. Read it here.