VA chief set for Senate grilling

 

Veterans Affairs Department Secretary Eric Shinseki is expected to be grilled at a Thursday Senate hearing on the state of his agency. 

The secretary and his department are battling charges that some VA clinics created secret wait lists to make it appear patients were treated quickly. 

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Reports last month suggested nearly 40 veterans died while on a wait list at a Phoenix clinic, though it is not clear if the deaths were a result of the long wait time. The department's inspector general is investigating the charges. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chairman of the panel, on Thursday faulted Shinseki's communications with Congress.

"I think by and large under very difficult circumstances Secretary Shinseki has done a good job," Sanders said on CNN's "New Day." "I think where he is very, very weak is in terms of communication. I think he does not a good job in communicating with the Congress or certainly with the American people and the media."

Sanders specifically cited Shinsek's leadership in getting VA claims processed online rather than by hand. 

 On Wednesday, President Obama appointed his deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors to oversee a review of the department as well.

"In terms of these accusations, one of the things that we don't want to do is get out in front of ourselves," Sanders said. "The truth of the matter is … the inspector general of the VA, an independent entity, is now investigating what took place in Phoenix. And we do not know what took place in Phoenix. The allegations may be correct, they may not be correct." 

While questions about the Phoenix reports will likely be brought up at the hearing Thursday, Sanders said the it is strictly about the overall quality of VA healthcare. He said he would quickly convene hearings on the Phoenix allegations after the inspector general issues a report.

The second ranking Republican on the committee Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) said he thinks the secretary is underserved by his top leadership and there should be an overall review of the chain of command. 

"I want to hear from Secretary Shinseki that there an acknowledgment in the VA that the VA has problems," he said on MSNBC. "We need to the IG's report, but without that report, we know there are problems."

Isakson said he supports the White House decision to bring in Nabors as long as he is not dealing strictly with damage control.

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