Indiana Representatives React To VA Secretary’s Resignation

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May 30, 2014—By LACY SCARMANA, Indiana Public Media—

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned today, but Indiana representatives say they don’t think that will fix the department’s problems.

President Barack Obama announced today that he accepted Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation.

Indiana representatives are skeptical that the resignation of the U.S. Veterans Affairs secretary will produce any significant changes at the state level.

President Obama accepted Eric Shinseki’s resignation today after weeks of controversy stemming from allegations that wait lists were manipulated at VA hospitals around the country, leading to significant delays in care and even patient deaths.

A report from the VA Inspector General this week concluded that inappropriate scheduling practices were systemic throughout the department.

Senator Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, says he welcomes fresh eyes on what he calls the “calamity” at the VA.  But the Indiana Democrat says Shinseki’s legacy should not be the scandal that ended his career.

“General Shinseki is a hero.  He has led men and women in combat.  He’s a hero,” Donnelly says.

U.S. Representative Jackie Walorski, R-Indiana, who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has been calling for Shinseki’s resignation for weeks.

She says she is grateful Shinseki stepped down because the situation deserves fresh eyes and leadership. But she says the problems in the VA go deeper than the administration.

“This is just step one,” she says. “Nobody should be shouting victory. Nobody should interpret this with any political eyes. This has been a bipartisan issue. It needs to stay a bipartisan issue. I think it’s a sad day for America.”

Walorski says Shinseki’s resignation opens the door for new leadership to hold people accountable for the deaths that have occurred—11 of which she says were at the VA hospital in Indianapolis.

She adds that the Secretary’s successor should have outside experience and must stop the destruction of records while holding bad actors within the Department accountable.

At the local level, Larry Catt, the Veterans Service officer of the Monroe County Veterans Affairs Departmen, says he agrees that a change at the top level of the department won’t solve the problems.

“I doubt that he was aware that all these problems even existed and I think it was obviously concealed,” he says. “That’s where you have to get to is those middle guys. Congress has kind of a short memory and I think that once they replace him, unless somebody keeps blowing the horn, that they will kind of forget there was ever a problem in the VA.”

Deputy Veteran Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson will be the acting VA secretary until the president appoints a new leader.

Brandon Smith contributed to this report.

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