Rep. Tammy Duckworth stops short of urging VA chief to quit

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WASHINGTON — While not calling for him to resign, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., was not cutting much slack for her former boss, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who’s under fire following reports veterans died waiting for health care appointments in Phoenix.

“I think that if this is truly happening, then he needs to fix it,” Duckworth told me. “So I would not support calling for him to resign. I think he needs to figure out what is happening and he should have the opportunity to fix it.”

Calls for the ouster of Shinseki, part of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet since the beginning, are coming from the American Legion and several members of Congress. They were triggered by allegations of a cover-up of delays in the Phoenix VA health care system, with at least 40 vets dying because of lack of treatment.

And if there are problems in reporting about delays in Phoenix, Duckworth said she “suspects” it’s happening in other VA facilities — though she had no alarms to sound about the three VA facilities in northern Illinois: Hines, near Maywood; Jesse Brown in Chicago; and the VA medical center in North Chicago.

Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war vet, is the former director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and was tapped by Obama to serve as an assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs under Shinseki. Duckworth stepped down from the post when she ran for Congress in 2012.

At the end of the week, the VA said it would launch a nationwide audit of facilities.

“I would like to see an audit or an inspection across all the VA facilities, not just Phoenix, to make sure that, number one, is this really happening in Phoenix and is it happening anywhere else because if it is happening in Phoenix, I would suspect it is happening in other VAs across the country,” Duckworth said.

On Sunday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on ABC’s “This Week”: “There is no one who understands accountability more than General Shinseki. I do support General Shinseki. . . . But there’s no margin here. If this, in fact, or any variation of this, occurred, all the way along the chain, accountability is going to have to be upheld here . . . because we can never let this kind of outrage — if all of this is true — stand in this country.”

Shinseki will testify Thursday about veterans health care before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where the chairman is a Democrat. The House Veterans Affairs Committee, where the chairman is a Republican, is starting a probe, voting to subpoena all records.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., House Intelligence Committee chairman, was willing to give Shinseki a chance — barely, when asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation” if Shinseki should resign.

“Well, he’s had five years to fix this problem. Five years. . . . You cannot, as a veteran myself, walk away, turn your back on what also appears to be a cultural problem throughout the Veterans Affairs of trying to make it look good without it being good. Our soldiers, our sailors and Marines, our airmen, they deserve better. We have to get this right. And if you can’t come up to Congress and say, ‘Here’s exactly how I’m going to fix it,’ then he needs to move along.”

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