VA scandal has Oregon senators ‘flabbergasted’

Oregon's US Senators Jeff Merkely (left) and Ron Wyden, in Portland, May 30, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
Oregon's US Senators Jeff Merkely (left) and Ron Wyden, in Portland, May 30, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — President Barack Obama announced during a White House news conference Friday morning he had accepted the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki after mounting pressure from both sides of the political aisle.

Hours later, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden, D-Portland, and Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, spoke openly about the VA’s heavily publicized issues Friday and the news of Shinseki’s departure.

“I do believe that Secretary Shinseki has done his utmost tackling the backlog of cases to make sure veterans get benefits, but there are some fundamental issues that the [Inspector General’s] report has revealed that just say we need a fresh start,” Merkley said, referencing the scathing interim report released Wednesday that confirmed many in Washington’s worst suspicions.

Merkley, who was among those to support the retired four-star general’s removal following the report being made public, said he was “absolutely shocked” by its findings.

US Sen. Ron Wyden talks with then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki during a 2013 event. (Flickr)
US Sen. Ron Wyden talks with then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki during a 2013 event. (Flickr)

The report stated that Phoenix’s VA medical facility — one of 26 under investigation — had left off some 1,700 veterans from waiting lists without their knowledge. It also took patients at the center an average of 115 days to see a doctor for the first time, according to the report.

Wyden didn’t comment on Friday’s resignation, instead choosing to focus on the “totally unacceptable contents of the report” and the need for a bipartisan effort moving forward.

Wyden, who just completed a send-off of Idaho reservists bound for Afghanistan, said the best way to repair the problems within the VA is to come together politically.

“The soldiers I saw at [Gowen Field Air National Guard Base], they weren’t talking about a Democrat approach or a Republican approach,” he said. “They were talking about serving Americans, and they’re taking off on a very dangerous mission.”

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