Shinseki faces subpoena, testimony before Senate
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki will testify next week before a Senate committee in the wake of allegations that dozens of veterans died while waiting to receive medical attention.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent and chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said Thursday that the hearing will take place May 15 and focus on the broader issues within the VA health care system.
The announcement came hours after the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs made a rare formal attempt to shake down the department for answers. During a special meeting, the committee unanimously voted to subpoena Mr. Shinseki and his top deputies for email and written correspondence going back to April 9.
Rumors that a secret electronic wait list, which purportedly shows that information from dozens of veterans was entered into computers at a Phoenix VA facility but not saved, surfaced after a retired doctor told CNN that the clinic kept an official list and a sham list of its patients.
Committee members have been tracking allegations that the list was intentionally destroyed.
Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and the committee’s chairman, said he began warning the department of an impending subpoena after concerns that officials were dodging congressional inquiries.
“This is a historic vote,” Mr. Miller said Thursday, adding that the committee has only issued subpoenas against the VA one other time its history. “I trust the VA will not further ignore the request that this committee has made.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs did not respond to a request for comment on the accusations that officials were stonewalling lawmakers. Instead, the department released a statement saying it planned to have the Veterans Health Administration conduct a nationwide access review.
The developments came amid mounting calls for Mr. Shinseki’s resignation, most notably from the American Legion. Mr. Shinseki has also been asked to step down by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican; Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican; and Rep. Mike Coffman, Colorado Republican.
But House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, declined Thursday to echo the demand.
“I’m not ready to join the chorus of people calling on him to step down,” Mr. Boehner told reporters.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, which on Monday rejected the resignation call and instead urged Mr. Shinseki “to reestablish the credibility of the entire VA health and benefits systems,” declined to comment on the subpoena until facts from an investigation by the department’s inspector general were released.
“Then there will be facts and remedial recommendations, whereas now there’s only allegations and conjecture,” Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Joe Davis said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney earlier this week said President Obama still has faith that Mr. Shinseki can do his job.
“The president remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the department,” he said.
Mr. Shinseki has defended his record and told CBS Thursday that he sent inspectors to Phoenix immediately after he learned of reports about the deaths.
“I take every one of these incidents and allegations seriously, and we’re going to go and investigate,” he said.