- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2014

While most lawmakers demanded the Veterans Affairs Department use the allegations in Phoenix as a wake-up call to take action, Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, defended the department and pointed out the good care it provides to veterans.

“There is no question to my mind that VA healthcare has problems. Serious problems. But it is not the case that health care in the rest of America is just wonderful,” the chairman said at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Thursday morning where Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will testify. “It’s important to put VA healthcare in context.”

Mr. Shinseki will face questions from Congress about allegations that at least 40 veterans died waiting for care on a secret list at the Phoenix VA facility.

Mr. Sanders said it’s important to look at whether the VA has enough staff to meet the 14-day wait for appointments it promises to veterans. He said trying to meet that “unrealistic expectation” may have created a situation where staff felt the need to “cook the books.”

Other members of the committee on both sides of the aisle did not defend the VA in the same way Mr. Sanders did. Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, said more needs to be done to increase transparency and restore veterans’ confidence in their healthcare system.

“I continue to believe you take this seriously and want to do the right thing, but we come to a point where we need more than good intentions,” she said.

Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican and ranking member, said it seems as if a new conflict is reported every day in what he called a “national scheduling crisis,” and put the blame on those at the top of the department.

“VA leadership has either failed to connect the dots or failed to address this ongoing crisis that has resulted in patient harm and patient death,” he said.

Mr. Burr, along with several other GOP lawmakers and some veterans’ groups, have called for Mr. Shinseki to resign. The White House appointed Rob Nabors, the deputy chief of staff of policy, to work with Mr. Shinseki on the issues, but maintains that the president has full faith in Mr. Shinseki’s ability to do his job.