By Rebecca Shabad - 05/05/14 03:08 PM EDT
The head of the largest advocacy group for U.S. military veterans on Monday called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and other department leaders to resign.
“As national commander of the nation’s largest veterans service organization, it is with great sadness that I call for the resignations of Secretary Shinseki, Under Secretary of Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey,” said Daniel Dellinger of The American Legion.
Speaking from the organization’s headquarters in Indianapolis, Dellinger said VA officials have demonstrated “poor oversight and failed leadership.”
Last month, whistleblowers revealed the Phoenix VA Health Care System in Arizona had been using a secret waiting list that might have resulted in the deaths of 40 veterans. A number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill quickly demanded the launch of an immediate investigation.
The latest scandal to surface was published on Sunday by USA Today, which found a VA clinic in Fort Collins, Colo. falsified appointment records to make it seem like the small staff of doctors was seeing patients within the agency’s goal of two weeks.
Dellinger named several other scandals involving VA-operated facilities that have engaged in similar activity, adding “errors and lapses” can occur in any system.
“But The American Legion expects when such errors and lapses are discovered, that they are dealt with swiftly and that the responsible parties are held accountable,” he said. “This has not happened at the Department of Veterans Affairs. There needs to be a change, and that change needs to occur at the top.”
The last time the Legion has called for the resignation of a cabinet-level official was in 1941 when the group called on then-Labor Secretary Ray Marshall to step down.
“It’s not something we do lightly. But we do so today because it is our responsibility as advocate for the men and women who have worn this nation’s uniform,” Dellinger said.
The largest advocacy group for combat veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, said in a statement Monday that it supported the Legion's call for resignations.
“It is paramount that Secretary Shinseki get publicly in front of this immediately to address the valid concerns of veterans and their families, and to reestablish the credibility of the entire VA health and benefits systems, and that of his own office,” said VFW National Commander William A. Thien.
“The VFW looks forward to the swift completion of the ongoing VA Inspector General’s investigation, and we also support closer congressional oversight to help ensure that the VA does not fail in its mission to care for wounded, ill and injured veterans and their survivors,” he said.
The Legion and VFW are not the first veterans groups to call for Shinseki’s resignation. Last year, the conservative-leaning non-profit organization Concerned Veterans for America issued a similar demand. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has also repeatedly called on Shinseki to step down.
President Obama nominated Shinseki in 2008, and he was confirmed by the Senate the next year. He is a retired Army four-star general, and served as chief of staff of the Army from 1999 until 2003. He served in the Vietnam War in which he was wounded.
This story was updated at 4:55 p.m.