Boehner: Obama must lay out VA vision

Eric Shinseki’s resignation as secretary of Veterans Affairs “cannot be used as an excuse to paper over a systemic problem," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Friday.

The Speaker had been one of the few senior Republicans in Washington who had not demanded Shinseki’s ouster in the wake of damaging reports about VA healthcare facilities, and in a brief appearance before reporters on Friday, he sought to keep the focus on President Obama.

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“His resignation,” Boehner said of Shinseki, “does not absolve the president of his responsibility to step in and make things right for our veterans.

“Until the president outlines his vision and frankly his plan for addressing the broad dysfunction at the VA, today’s announcement changes nothing,” the Speaker continued. “One personnel change cannot be used as an excuse to paper over a systemic problem. Our veterans deserve better, and we will hold the president accountable until he makes things right.”

Senior Republicans who had called on Shinseki to step down said attention now needs to turn to fixing the department itself. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he wanted to see a bipartisan group dig into the VA.

“I thank the general for his service to the country. I think it’s the right move, but we now have to focus on the structure,” McCarthy told The Hill. “One person can’t change it all.”

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said he knew the acting secretary Obama named, Sloan Gibson, and had “the utmost confidence” in him, but he called for more cooperation between the administration and Congress.

Miller said Shinseki had ignored warnings that senior managers were “lying to him” for years.

“They were only bringing the positive things forward,” Miller said, “and unfortunately, his management style allowed the mid-level bureaucrats to take him down, because he could not lead the agency in a way that was necessary for the change that needed to take place.”

The VA would not be fixed overnight, Miller said, but he argued that some changes could start immediately, such as passing legislation to make it easier to fire ineffective senior managers.

“It didn’t happen overnight, and so it is going to take awhile to turn it around,” Miller said. “But steps have to be taken in the right direction.”

Boehner said he hoped the president would order officials at the VA to cooperate with House investigations into the department, and he said the Senate should immediately pass Miller’s proposal, which the House approved last week. Senate Democrats have said they are working on their own bill to give more firing authority to the VA secretary.