WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration moved Wednesday to address a growing furor over allegations of misconduct at the department that oversees military veterans’ affairs, including reports of treatment delays and preventable deaths at hospitals run by the agency.
President Barack Obama summoned Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to a meeting, hours before the House of Representatives was to vote on a bill that would grant the secretary more authority to fire or demote senior executives.
The controversy has risen to become a top issue in Washington. The treatment of military veterans is an emotional issue that resonates with a wide spectrum of Americans, particularly in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that grew unpopular as they dragged on.
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors is preparing to travel to Phoenix to meet with staff at the Veterans Affairs office where the crisis began after allegations of delayed care that may have led to patient deaths and a cover-up by top administrators.
A former clinic director said that as many as 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix hospital and that staff, at the instruction of administrators, kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide delays in care. Investigators probing the claims say they have so far not linked any patient deaths in Phoenix to delayed care.
Obama was expected to address the problems in a statement from the White House following his meeting with Shinseki. Nabors, who was assigned to oversee a review of the VA health care system, was also to be present.
The VA’s Office of Inspector General said late Tuesday the number of VA facilities being investigated nationwide for problems had expanded to 26. Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin told a Senate committee last week that 10 facilities were being investigated.
The House bill would target about 450 career employees at the VA who serve as hospital directors or executives in the agency’s 21 regions.
Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republican chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, sponsored the measure, saying VA officials who have presided over mismanagement or negligence are more likely to receive bonuses or glowing performance reviews than any sort of punishment.
Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said the White House shares the goals of the House bill — to ensure accountability at the VA — but was concerned about some of the details.
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Julie Pace contributed to this report.