By Keith Laing - 05/25/14 09:57 AM EDT
The chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs said Sunday that the controversy involving the Department of Veterans Affairs is “much larger than” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Republicans have called for President Obama to fire Shinseki as the Department of Veterans Affairs attempts to deal with the fallout from allegations of medical treatment backlogs that employees are accused of trying to hide.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the problems at the VA would not be fixed simply by Shinseki’s departure.
“You’ve got an entrenched bureaucracy that exists out there that is not held accountable that is shooting for goals that are not helping the veteran,” the Florida congressman said. “The person that is supposed to be served is not the bureaucrat. It’s the veteran.”
The VA has been accused of allowing 23 veterans to die while they waited for treatments because of a backlog at its facilities across the country.
Shinseki announced on Saturday that the VA is planning to allow more veterans to obtain healthcare at private hospitals to help deal with the backlog.
Miller said Sunday that the announcement was too late to reduce the impact of the scandal.
“They had the ability to allow veterans to go to facilities outside of the VA system for a long period of time and they’re just now saying we’re going to start moving forward in that posture,” he said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, defended the agency on Sunday.
”Clearly there are incompetent administrators and we’ve got to deal with that issue as well,” Sanders said. “One point that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is that if you speak to veterans…they will tell you that by and large the quality of care that veterans receive at VA hospitals and clinics around this country is good to excellent.”
Sanders touted a bill he has filled to improve veterans’ healthcare benefits, which he said would give the agency more money to handle its large number of patients.
“You have to understand how big the system is,” he said. “They’re treating six-and-a-half million people a year. 230,000 every single day.
“Is there waste in the system? Absolutely…we’ve got to focus on that,” Sanders continued. “But at the end of the day, when you have two million new veterans coming into the system, some with very difficult and complicated problems, I do think we have to take a hard look and see if we have the resources. If we’re going to send people off to war, we have a solemn obligation to make sure that when they come home, we’re going to take care of them.”
Miller said giving the VA more money would not solve its problems with processing the paperwork of veterans who are seeking treatment.
“If money was the issue, this would have been solved a long time ago,” Miller said. “The VA is not using the resources they have been provided.”
Miller said the agency needed to modernize its operations to handle the high volume of traffic.
“We’ve got to move away from a World War II concept to a 21st century, not tear the VA system down,” he said.
“You’ll hear people say that’s what folks want to do,” Miller continued. “What we want to do is…give veterans the option to go where they want to get their healthcare when they want to get their healthcare and not be forced into a system that has to have the numbers to survive.”