By Kristina Wong - 05/06/14 08:02 PM EDT
Pressure built on Tuesday for Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, with more outraged lawmakers calling for his head over charges his agency tried to cover up long wait times for VA appointments that resulted in deaths.
Three Republican senators called on Shinseki to resign, including Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), while Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a release heavily criticized the secretary for problems at the VA.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the VA committee’s ranking member, also called for Shinseki’s resignation.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to support calls for Shinseki’s resignation.
“A change in leadership might be a good step in the right direction,” he said.
This is far from the first time there have been calls for Shinseki’s resignation, who has come under repeated criticism for not doing enough to cut down on long wait times at VA facilities.
But it’s clear he now faces the biggest challenge to his tenure.
The new calls for his head came after allegations surfaced this week that clerks at a Veterans Affairs clinic in Fort Collins, Colo., were instructed last year to falsify appointment records so it appeared that the doctors were meeting the VA’s goals of seeing patients within 14 days.
The revelation followed other allegations that surfaced last month that a VA clinic in Phoenix had placed some veterans on a secret wait list, also in order to obscure long appointment wait times — which a whistleblower said resulted in the deaths of more than 40 veterans.
The VA has placed the Phoenix clinic administrator on leave and is conducting investigations into both cases.
The allegations led the American Legion to call for Shinseki to resign. Another veterans group, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, did not call for resignations but said Congress should probe the matter.
The White House defended Shinseki on Thursday.
“The president remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the department and to take appropriate action based on the IG’s findings,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
Separately, White House spokesman Shin Inouye in a statement noted that President Obama had directed Shinseki to investigate allegations surrounding the Phoenix facility. The statement noted that Shinseki has also invited the independent Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General to conduct a review.
Several lawmakers have stopped short of calling for Shinseki’s resignation in a sign he might survive the battle.
“I do know he is a fine man, but you got to be accountable, so we’ll see,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “He seems to be playing catch up, when it comes to day-to-day healthcare. … He’s going to have to up his game, that’s for sure.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also stopped short of calling for Shinseki, a retired four-star Army general who was wounded while serving in Vietnam, to step down.
“No, I think we need to complete the investigation. I’m obviously very unhappy, and the investigation needs to go on, but let us get through this investigation,” he said.