By Martin Matishak - 06/02/14 12:41 PM EDT
An influential veterans group Monday urged the Obama administration to tap individuals with combat experience to run the Veterans Affairs Department, part of its proposal for a “Marshall Plan” to restore confidence at the beleaguered agency.
“America needs a unique brand of hybrid leader, a proactive change agent who understands Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, technology, healthcare and Congress,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), during a Capitol Hill press conference.
“What we need is a Marshall Plan for veterans,” Rieckhoff said. The Marshall Plan was part of recovery efforts in Europe after World War II that aimed to bolster U.S. influence and deter communism.
The call to action comes after VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday in the wake of an interim report from an independent watchdog that showed agency officials had tampered with patient waiting lists at facilities across the country to hide how longer veterans waited to receive medical care. Some reports have alleged that the delays led to patient deaths.
Rieckhoff declined to identify individuals he would like to see in leadership positions at the VA. He said there are “dozens of names out there who should be considered,” calling for a “massive infusion of talent” at the agency.
Rieckhoff sidestepped questions about whether he would accept a post at the VA.
“I love my job right now. And I love New York City, which is where I live, so I’m not thrilled about the idea of moving to Washington,” he told reporters. But he added that he would “be happy to sit down with the president and figure out the plan ahead.
“Right now what we need is a strategy first and I would never take a job like that unless it was properly supported and funded,” he continued.
IAVA also called on the White House to initiate a criminal investigation into the VA's actions, a move many lawmakers from both parties have already backed.
The veterans group also pressed senators to approve the VA Accountability Act that sailed through the House last month on a 390-33 vote.
Rieckhoff said the group had not reviewed a proposal unveiled on Sunday by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that attempts to revamp the hiring and firing practices at the agency.
The House bill would give the VA secretary expanded powers to fire poorly performing employees. But critics say it could weaken workplace protections for federal employees.