Biden touts 'significant changes' to VA

 

The troubled Department of Veterans Affairs is “beginning to see significant changes,” Vice President Biden said Tuesday at a Veterans Day event at Arlington National Cemetery.

Tuesday was the first Veterans Day holiday since it was revealed that veterans endured months-long waits for care at government hospitals, with staffers routinely manipulating records to cover up the waiting times.

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The scandal rocked the Obama administration and led to the forced resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

“As a nation, we have a lot of obligations, to the young, to the old, to all the poor,” Biden said Tuesday in his remarks. “But there's no obligation that is truly sacred other than the commitment to our veterans.”

Months after Shinseki was let go, his successor, Bob McDonald, announced a dramatic reorganization of the department in response to the crisis.

The realignment of the VA is intended to improve services to patients, and McDonald has also taken disciplinary action against 5,600 employees.

Republican lawmakers and some groups representing veterans have demanded tougher actions, however, arguing McDonald has not done enough to remove problem employees at the VA.

McDonald, who has noted that laws are in place to ensure due process to VA employees, has said he plans to hire an additional 28,000 medical professionals and fire those responsible for the mismanagement.

At Arlington, Biden largely avoided discussing the controversy, instead praising veterans for “the incredible sacrifices they’ve made and continue to make.”

“You are not only the heart and soul, but you are the very spine of this nation,” Biden said.

Biden said the holiday was a chance to thank “the more than 23 million surviving veterans who have so bravely and faithfully protected our freedom." 

“I’ve seen the incredible sacrifices they’ve made and continue to make,” Biden said.

The vice president offered special tribute to the 9/11 generation, which he said was prepared “to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell — and they did.”

“Never before has America asked so much of an all-volunteer force,” Biden said, noting the “incredible price” paid by those who serve.

Biden also applauded the families of service members, saying he knew from his son’s deployment to Iraq how harrowing it could be.

"It’s not just the forces on the front line that are asked to sacrifice and to serve,” Biden said. “It’s also the families.”

President Obama is attending an international summit in China, leaving much of the ceremonial Veterans Day responsibilities to Biden.