- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2014

The White House acknowledged Monday that President Obama was warned of problems within the VA years ago and said that was why he asked Congress repeatedly for more money to try to improve care for veterans.

The Washington Times reported Monday that Mr. Obama’s transition team was warned in 2008 to be wary of the wait times the Department of Veterans Affairs was reporting — a key element of the burgeoning scandal over VA care.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the problems extended back before Mr. Obama’s term and that the president’s response once in office was to ask for more money to try to handle the flood of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“You have more veterans being served through health centers around the country. You have more veterans having the availability of disability claims approved through that process,” Mr. Carney told reporters. “And those two facts put additional stress on the system [and] require additional support and funding from the administration, from the government, from Congress.”

Questions about VA care were raised after accusations that as many as 40 veterans may have died while awaiting medical care at a VA hospital in Phoenix. The incident, along with others reported anew at VA facilities across the country, is the subject of multiple federal reviews.

Mr. Carney said critics should wait for the results of various investigations before placing blame, but he said the president has been on top of the situation since his campaign.

SEE ALSO: Obama warned about VA wait-time problems during 2008 transition

“We believe that the right thing to do is to fully investigate, fully review, take action to fix the problems that are identified and make sure that the services are being provided to our veterans,” the spokesman said.

Documents obtained by The Times through the Freedom of Information Act make clear that the problems existed long before Mr. Obama came to power in 2009. They date back at least to the George W. Bush administration, records show.

The papers also show, however, that Veterans Affairs officials specifically warned the Obama-Biden transition team in late 2008 that the department should not trust the wait times its facilities were reporting.

Among the accusations that have surfaced is that veterans died while on a secret wait list at the Phoenix facility.

Despite the White House’s efforts to improve care at VA hospitals, those problems have persisted, and critics say the president now may bear personal responsibility for the situation.

“New revelations that President Barack Obama has known since 2008 about delayed care and record falsification at Veterans Affairs facilities but did nothing, even as veterans died, call into question his personal role in the scandal,” Rep. Steve Stockman, Texas Republican, said in a statement Monday. “Obama knew. Obama knew for over five years. And Obama chose to do nothing even as veterans continued to die. … Obama continued to ignore the rising death toll until it was publicly exposed. Only then did he claim to be ‘madder than hell’ and took action, which he should have done over five years ago.”

Mr. Carney reiterated Monday that the president is “mad as hell” about the situation, a term first used in this context by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki during testimony to Congress last week.

Lawmakers and veterans groups such as the American Legion have called on Mr. Shinseki to resign, but the White House says it has full confidence in the secretary.

Last week, Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health at the department, resigned amid growing outrage. But his resignation isn’t enough to satisfy critics, including some within the president’s own party, who say Mr. Shinseki must go.

“He’s a wonderful public servant and has done a terrific job in many other areas, but it is time for the president to replace him,” former Sen. Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat, said during an appearance Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Mr. Kerrey is a Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.

⦁ Jim McElhatton and S.A. Miller contributed to this report

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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