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November 23, 2014

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Reid, Heller among lawmakers speaking out on VA scandal

Updated Thursday, May 15, 2014 | 1:49 p.m.

There’s little that angers members of Congress in both parties more than accusations of mistreatment of veterans.

And allegations that Veterans Affairs health care officials covered up lengthy wait times in veterans hospitals came to a head Thursday when senators on the Veterans Affairs Committee drilled the man in charge of the massive Department of Veterans Affairs.

Many lawmakers, including Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., wondered out loud to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki if these recent allegations are part of a larger problem of how the VA works. Here’s what they had to say about the scandal that has gripped Washington, D.C., this week:

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

Dean Heller

Dean Heller

Heller expressed frustration that Nevada veterans have some of the nation’s longest backlogs for disability claims — on average 355 days — and Las Vegas veterans have complained of waiting up to six hours for emergency room treatment at the city’s veterans hospital.

“Poor health care in the VA is nothing new in Nevada,” Heller said. Although he stopped short of calling for Shinseki’s resignation, like some senators have done, Heller added, “At some point I have to ask if these problems in Nevada are a demonstration of failed leadership at the top.”

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

The Senate majority leader doesn’t sit on any committees, but Reid is one of the few senators defending Shinseki.

Reid said today he understands the VA has a lot to deal with as more veterans return home from two wars.

“We know the VA has received a heavy load; it’s been a big burden,” he said, adding the VA medical system “is a pretty good system.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

The chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee was one of the only senators at the hearing who cautiously defended the VA, saying not every patient in one of the nation’s largest health care systems is going to be happy with their care.

“We need to get the facts and not rush to judgment,” he said. “One of the concerns I have, to be honest, is there has been a rush to judgment.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The senior senator doesn’t sit on the committee Shinseki appeared before today, but he made a guest appearance to express concern that up to 40 veterans may have died while waiting for treatment at the Phoenix veterans hospital.

“This has created in our veterans’ community a crisis of confidence toward the VA — the very agency that was established to care for them,” he said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The senior Democratic leader had some of the strongest condemnations for VA officials.

“These recent allegations are not new issues,” she said. “They are deep, system-wide problems, and they grow more concerning every day.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

As a result of the scandal, the VA announced it will audit of all of its medical centers.

Blumenthal suggested those findings could produce criminal charges if accusations VA health care workers altered records about wait times are found to be true.

“There is a need now for more than just investigation; there is a need for action,” he said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The Senate minority leader doesn’t sit on any committees, but he issued harsh criticisms of the VA in a Thursday speech on the Senate floor.

“Any misconduct found at VA hospitals should be met with swift punishment,” he said.

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