President Barack Obama promised in 2008 to build "a 21st century" Veterans Affairs Department, and he appointed retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, a respected Vietnam vet and former Army chief of staff, to do the job.
Now both the president and the VA secretary are under fire for the department's apparent failures. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, charged Tuesday that Shinseki and the VA are not cooperating fully with a subpoena issued by the committee, which is investigating allegations of negligence that may have caused 40 deaths at a Phoenix VA facility.
Miller said the response to the subpoena was “clearly inadequate and makes me suspicious that the department has something to hide."
"All VA delivered yesterday was about 200 emails from one official, Dr. Thomas Lynch, and nothing else," Miller said in a statement released on Tuesday evening. "Considering the fact that there are supposedly 30 people working on responding to the subpoena and the dearth of information VA provided, I am quickly getting the impression the department does not want to fully cooperate in this matter."
The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, has called for Shinseki to resign or for Obama to relieve him of his position.
For now, at least, the president is standing by his man.
"The president has confidence in Secretary Shinseki," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. "We are of the view that the kinds of allegations we have seen need to be investigated rigorously, and once we have all the facts, accountable individuals need to be held to account."
An inspector general is investigating allegations that the Phoenix facility may have contributed to veterans' deaths by failing to provide care in a timely manner, and that records of wait times were falsified or destroyed. In all, there have been allegations of poor care made against VA facilities in six states.