Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel admitted Sunday that the Obama administration and its predecessors “missed” the warning signs around troubling delays for care and other problems at veterans’ hospitals across the country.
Mr. Hagel stressed that problems with Veterans’ Affairs facilities should have been addressed many years ago.
But the Pentagon chief also said he stands by Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who has been in charge of the department for the last five years and is under increasing pressure to resign following reports that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for care at a Phoenix VA hospital.
“I do support General Shinseki, but there’s no margin here. If this, in fact, or any variation of this occurred, all the way along the chain, accountability is going to have to be upheld here because we can never let this kind of outrage — if all of this is true — stand in this country,” Mr. Hagel said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “I don’t think it just started with General Shinseki’s term at the VA. This is something that should have been looked at years and years ago. So, yes, we missed it.”
Lawmakers and powerful groups such as the American Legion don’t share Mr. Hagel’s patience with the Veterans’ Affairs secretary.
Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said returning veterans “deserve better” and if Mr. Shinseki can’t right the ship, he should be fired.
“You cannot, as a veteran myself, walk away, turn your back on what also appears to be a cultural problem throughout the Veterans’ Affairs [department] of trying to make it look good without it being good. Our soldiers, our sailors, our marines, our airmen deserve better. We’ve got to get this right,” Mr. Rogers said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“If [Mr. Shinseki] can’t come up to Congress and say ‘this is exactly how I’m going to fix it,’ then he needs to be gone.”