By Kristina Wong - 05/29/14 02:10 PM EDT
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) on Thursday became the first Democratic senator not facing reelection to call for the ouster of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, signaling a potentially decisive loss of support on Capitol Hill.
The call from Heinrich, who isn’t up for reelection until 2018, could signal that more Democrats are ready to abandon the embattled secretary over the scandal that is gripping his department.
"I call on President Obama to appoint a new secretary who will provide the leadership and management that our nation's veterans need and deserve," Heinrich said in a statement.
"I have a mountain of respect for what General Shinseki has done in service to our country, but our nation's veterans deserve nothing less than the very best service our nation has to offer. Tragically, that has not always been the case," he said.
Later in the day, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who also isn't up for reelection until 2018, called for Shinseki to be replaced.
“I believe the only way to regain the confidence of our veterans and the public that we will solve this problem and provide the VA services that veterans are entitled to in a prompt, efficient and compassionate way is for the President to select new leadership of this critical agency," Kaine said.
Up until this week, the overwhelming majority of calls for Shinseki's resignation had been coming from Republicans. That changed on Wednesday when an inspector general review substantiated reports that a Phoenix VA clinic concealed long wait times for appointments.
Heinrich called the report's confirmation of waiting lists and long wait times for first appointments "absolutely unacceptable" and evidence of problems being systemic "even more disturbing."
The Daily Beast reported earlier this month that staff members at a VA clinic in Albuquerque, N.M., were destroying evidence of waiting lists.
"This week I visited the regional VA facility in Albuquerque and many of the veterans that I spoke to there were complementary of their treatment. But even one veteran slipping through the cracks anywhere in the nation is one too many," Heinrich said.
This story was updated at 4:34 p.m.