Blumenthal: Time to bring in DOJ

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Sunday that the Department of Justice should investigate alleged mistreatment of military veterans that has engulfed the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA has been accused of allowing a backlog of cases to build up for years in some cases and attempting to cover up the problems by falsifying records.

Blumenthal said Sunday during an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation” that the DOJ should be brought in to investigate the complaints because they involve potentially criminal acts.  

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“I believe that the Department of Justice has to be involved,” Blumenthal said. “I urged [VA] Secretary [Eric] Shinseki privately and in fact publicly to request and involve the Department of Justice.”

Blumenthal said the VA is not equipped to handle the investigation by itself.

“We’re talking now about … credible and specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing across the country in more than 30 places,” he said. “The inspector general of the Veterans Administration has only 165 investigators.  

“Plainly more resources are needed,” Blumenthal continued. “Only the Department of Justice and the FBI has the resources, the expertise and the authority to do a prompt and effective criminal investigation of the secret waiting list, potential destruction of documents, falsification of records. In effect, cooking the books and covering up that may have occurred.”

Blumenthal added that it was important not to presume officials at the VA were guilty.

He added that allowing the Justice Department to conduct the investigation would help the veterans’ agency restore its reputation.

“These are allegations, but there’s evidence to support them,” Blumenthal said. “We’re not rushing to judgment, but the department of justice can convene a grand jury if necessary. The IG cannot. And [the Justice Department] reflects and presents an outside independent authority that can offer accountability and the perception of accountability. It would restore trust and confidence on the part of veterans.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who was appearing on the show with Blumenthal, agreed that the problems at the VA were troubling.  

“We’ve got a … basic failure of the institution,” Thune said. “It hasn’t been associated with funding because we know that funding has been increased by 60 percent over the past five years to the VA."

Thune said the VA needed “a top-to-bottom review by the inspector general, system wide, that points out and gives us an idea about how to proceed."

“I think one of the things is we’ve got to have more accountability, more transparency about not only waiting lists, but outcomes at the VA,” the South Dakota lawmaker said. “We also have to come up with a better model of delivering care to our veterans so that they don’t have these waits. This is a real tragedy, these are people with whom we have sacred trust, and that’s been betrayed. We need to make sure that it’s fixed.”  

Thune said the announcement Saturday that the VA would allow patients to go to non-VA facilities more often to help ease the backlog was a “welcome change.”  

But he said the Obama administration has otherwise been too slow to respond to the VA scandal.  

“I think the president just waited way too long to get into this,” Thune said. “That was the issue that many of us were raising. You had reports of up to 40 people who died on waiting lists. You had these reports of secret lists and falsifying reports and all those sorts of things and it took there weeks for the president to act.”