Florida leaders respond to resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned on Friday over the mounting scandal involving delayed waits for care at VA hospitals, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of veterans.

President Barack Obama met with reporters briefly after talking with Shinseki Friday morning at the White House, where the retired Army general responded to increasing calls to resign by saying “the VA needs new leadership,” and that he “does not want to be a distraction” in finding a solution to the situation.

Obama named Sloan Gibson, a Shinseki deputy, temporarily to assume VA leadership until the appointment of a new secretary.

In Florida, with nearly 3 million veterans, the response to the news was unanimously positive. Many of Florida’s political leaders— both at the national and state level—had called for Shinseki to step down.

“The resignation of Eric Shinseki is a good first step in much needed reform in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said Gov. Rick Scott in a statement. “Over the last several weeks, I have pressed federal VA hospitals to allow access for our state inspectors from the Agency for Health Care Administration to ensure that our nation’s veterans were getting the treatment they deserve.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been calling on Senate Democrats to bring greater accountability to the VA by supporting his VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, called the resignation just the first step in “addressing the institutional neglect of veterans at the VA.”

“The systemic mismanagement will continue unless we bring reform to the VA and hold all those who are responsible accountable,” Rubio said. “Under current law, whoever succeeds Secretary Shinseki will be prohibited from firing VA employees such as those detailed in the inspector general’s latest report, who have failed at their jobs and, therefore, failed our nation’s veterans.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who has known Shinseki of a number of years, said the general “did the right thing,” and praised him for “putting the country first.”

“This is a strong, patriotic general who stood up to Donald Rumsfeld about the length of time that we were going to have to be in Iraq,” Nelson said. “Now that he resigned, we can get on. There ought to be a lot of heads rolling, because there is something in the culture of the VA that is not responding to serve our veterans the very best that they deserve.”

Agreeing with Rubio is U.S. Rep. David Jolly, whose Florida’s 13th Congressional District is home to the Bay Pines VA hospital, recently renamed after his predecessor, former Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

“I have believed from the beginning of this crisis that personnel changes would be required and I respect the Secretary’s decision,” Jolly said. “However, today’s resignation does not bring an end to this crisis, but it does provide an opportunity for the President to demonstrate his commitment to swiftly eliminate the medical waiting lists now.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, an Army veteran and member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, was “rooting for” Shinseki to succeed.

“It pained me that he and the Administration couldn’t get this right for our veterans,” Rooney said. “The deep-seated, systemic problems that face the next VA Secretary are daunting, but we as a country must rise to this challenge.”

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross found the situation “unacceptable,” and the “egregious” actions of the VA needs thorough investigation.

“The recent report from the Inspector General of the VA also confirmed the mismanagement,” Ross said. “While we appreciate Secretary Shinseki’s service as a Veteran himself, we can’t overlook these serious issues that have continued under his tenure.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, who represents Florida’s 26th Congressional District, also approved, saying, “New leadership is in order.”

“We can now move forward with a fresh start to thoroughly examine and address the clearly widespread issues facing the VA and ensure they never happen again so that our nation’s veterans can get the care they have so rightly earned,” he said.

Democratic Congressional candidate Gwen Graham also weighed in on Shinseki’s stepping down, while commending him on moving forward for the good of American veterans.

“I applaud the immediate actions taken by the administration to hold hospital administrators and officials responsible for the mismanagement of the VA,” Graham said. “While I don’t doubt the secretary’s commitment to our country and its veterans, it is obvious that it is time to move forward and reform the VA to ensure our fighting men and women are receiving the care they have been denied.”

Graham’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, mentioned how he had called for Shinseki’s resignation last week.

“While I am pleased that Secretary Shinseki has stepped down,” Southerland said, “we should be under no illusion that this scandal is anywhere close to being resolved.  If the President wants to regain the faith of our veterans, a thorough investigation into the secret waiting lists must continue and the individuals who allowed this shocking breach of trust to occur must be held accountable.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch noted that the problems at the VA began long before Shinseki took office, and his “necessary” resignation will not make them go away.

“Going forward we must do everything in our power to ensure the federal government puts the same resources, energy, and innovation into caring for our veterans that it put into sending them into war,” he said.

Among the other reactions from Florida lawmakers:

Veterans’ Affairs Committee chair U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller: “Everybody knows Eric Shinseki is an honorable man whose dedication to our country is beyond reproach. I thank him for his legacy of service to our nation. Unfortunately, Shinseki’s tenure at the Department of Veterans Affairs will forever be tainted by a pervasive lack of accountability among poorly performing VA employees and managers, apparent widespread corruption among medical center officials and an unparalleled lack of transparency with Congress, the public and the press. … Right now, VA needs a leader who will take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability.”

Veterans’ Affairs Committee vice-chair U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis: “The General’s resignation will not solve all the problems at the VA. Our Veterans deserve better care than they currently receive. The VA has systemic failures that promote a culture of mediocrity and discourages transparency and accountability. That has to change. I will not rest until the deeper problems within the VA are addressed, and all Veterans get the timely access to quality health care that they have earned.”

Jacksonville Republican U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw:  “The number one priority is to make sure our veterans get the care they need and deserve. Secretary Shinseki – by his own judgment – was getting in the way of that mission. And, it was right for him to resign. The widespread and systematic lack of accountability at our VA medical centers is horrifying, and investigations and audits have confirmed that. It’s appalling, and we must move forward to ensure that our veterans receive the care that they are due without delay. People have suffered the ultimate consequence of death, and the VA needs new tools to foster accountability and restore confidence. That’s why I voted to pass the Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act. As investigations continue, this legislation is a step in the right direction toward ensuring VA leaders are held accountable for mistakes. The bill would give the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs the complete authority to fire or demote senior VA officials based on performance.”

Jacksonville Democrat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a senior member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee: “I am disappointed in the resignation of VA Secretary Shinseki.  While he felt he would have been a distraction going forward to resolve the issues brought to light by Phoenix, I feel Secretary Shinseki was the person most capable of fixing these issues. I am grateful for his service both as a soldier and a veteran. Since being sworn in as the seventh Secretary of Veterans Affairs in 2009, Secretary Shinseki has brought reform and a new way of thinking to the VA.  As a former Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary Shinseki knew what the young men and women protecting our freedoms overseas were going though and wanted to make sure they did not have to fight a bureaucracy to get the services they earned.”

 

 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.