House lawmakers rip VA officials

House members slammed Veterans Affairs officials at a hearing Wednesday evening, after Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said the department failed to comply with a subpoena request into the alleged destruction of a secret waiting list at its Phoenix clinic.

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"Ma'am, veterans died. Get us the answers please," Miller told the VA's assistant secretary for legislative affairs, Joan Mooney, cutting her off multiple times during the nearly four-hour-long hearing.

“Until VA understands that we’re deadly serious, you can expect us to be over your shoulder every single day.”

Miller, who leads the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said he issued a May 8 subpoena request for all emails and written correspondence to be sent and received by certain VA officials regarding the "destruction or disappearance of alternate or interim wait lists" at the Phoenix facility, but that he received a partial response.

"My staff was told that the committee would only be receiving a partial response on the original due date and that VA would produce additional documents on a rolling basis over an indefinite and undefined period of time thereafter," he said. 

"Veterans' health is at stake, and I will not stand for a department cover-up," Miller continued.

In response, Mooney confirmed she told committee staff during a recent visit to the Phoenix clinic that officials had found an "intermediate work product used to identify veteran appointments that had been canceled for the purpose of rescheduling those veterans." It was her impression that the document had been "appropriately destroyed when its purpose was over, when the veterans had been rescheduled," she said.

Asked why notes pertaining to the destruction were not included in response to the subpoena, Mooney said the VA's Office of General Counsel had the lead on providing information, and that "It's my understanding that VA has provided the committee with relevant information in response to that subpoena."

The committee's top Democrat, Rep. Mike Michaud (Maine), who is running for governor, also expressed displeasure with the agency's efforts to date at transparency.

"Let me be clear: I am not happy. I'm not wholly satisfied with the VA responses we've seen to date. We do expect answers," he said. 

Some of the most contentious moments in the hearing came when Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) grilled the witnesses over whether they felt they had directly contributed to the death of veterans.

She later pressed Dr. Thomas Lynch and Mooney on whether they would support criminal charges against VA officials involved in medical mistreatment, if the inspector general concluded there were grounds to warrant such action.

Lynch said that if criminal charges were brought up, "we need to let the process follow through."

Mooney said she, too, would support it.

Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) speculated how all three officials “can stand in a mirror and look at yourself in a mirror and shave in the morning and then not throw up.”

Meanwhile, more Democratic senators called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation on Wednesday evening, after the VA's inspector general substantiated allegations that VA staff had doctored records to hide long wait times. 

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who is running for reelection this year, called the report "so troubling that I have come to the conclusion that the Department of Veterans Affairs needs new leadership." 

"I believe it would be in the best interest of veterans for Secretary Shinseki to step down," he said in a statement, according to the Minneapolis Post

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a GOP target in the midterm elections, followed with a statement also calling for his resignation, despite having "tremendous respect" for Shinseki, whom she said has made "important progress" in reducing a backlog of claims. 

"However, it has become clear that after six years as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, General Shinseki has been unable to solve other fundamental problems that plague the agency," she said in a statement late Wednesday evening. 

"Today, after reading the Inspector General’s interim report, I am calling for General Shinseki's resignation. It's time for a forceful new leader to address the outrageous problems at the VA," she said. 

Earlier in the day, Sens. Mark Udall (D-N.M.), John Walsh (D-Mont.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) called for Shinseki to step down, becoming the first Democratic senators to do so. All three are Republican targets in the November elections.

—This post was updated at 12:45 a.m.