Duckworth says Shinseki ‘has to go’

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), one of the most well-known veterans in Congress, on Friday urged Veterans Affairs chief Eric Shinseki to step down.

Duckworth, a former assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) who worked under Shinseki, said the controversy over whether he “will stay or go is too much a distraction. I think he has to go,” The Washington Post reported.

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Shinseki has become increasingly isolated after the release of an inspector general’s (IG) interim report that found patients had to wait an average of 115 to receive a primary care appointment at a VA facility in Phoenix. The report said the clinic falsified patient wait lists to avoid agency regulations.

It is estimated that by Friday, more than 100 members of Congress from both parties had called for Shinseki’s head, though Duckworth’s announcement is particularly damaging given her two-year stint as an assistant secretary for public affairs and intergovernmental relations at the VA.

Shinseki “certainly loves veterans, but it’s time for new leadership. It’s time to get someone in who will put veterans first,” she said. “We’ve moved away from veterans being the primacy of the conversation. It’s not a political discussion, and that’s not where it should be when it comes to our nation’s heroes.”

The IG interim report “has clearly stated they’re looking at literally dozens of other facilities, and we just don’t have the time to waste on political discussions when veterans need care,” Duckworth said.

Duckworth lost both her legs in combat in the Iraq War. She was elected to the House in 2012.  She is facing a tough reelection battle against Republican Larry Kaifesh, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.

Shinseki was slated to meet with President Obama at the White House on Friday. In the morning, he gave a speech where he apologized for the scandal embroiling his agency.

“I apologize as the senior leader of Veterans Affairs,” he said at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans 2014 conference. "That breach of integrity is irresponsible; it is indefensible and unacceptable to me."

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