KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Obama Says VA Problems Must Be Faced Amid Calls For FBI Probe

While honoring America's fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, the president acknowledged the need to confront the scandal at veterans hospitals. Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Burr and veterans groups fight over the response to the controversy. Also, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that if allegations about falsified reports are found to be true, the agency's leadership must be held accountable, and lawmakers demand a probe by the Justice Department.

The New York Times: Obama, Honoring the Fallen, Says V.A. Problems Must Be Faced
President Obama, just back from a surprise visit to the troops in Afghanistan, honored America’s fallen warriors in a solemn Memorial Day ceremony on Monday and acknowledged the need to confront the widening scandal at the nation’s veterans hospitals. "As we've been reminded in recent days, we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families to make sure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they’ve earned and that they deserve," Mr. Obama said to a military audience gathered under balmy sunshine in an amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery (Lander, 5/26).

USA Today: Obama Honors Veterans 'Who Gave Their All'
Obama did not specifically mention the VA controversy during his speech, but did note the obligation that the nation owes its veterans. He said, "we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families, and ensure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they've earned and that they deserve" (Jackson, 5/26).

The Wall Street Journal: Veterans Groups, Sen. Richard Burr Trade Barbs Over VA
Veterans' groups traded furious charges with a senior Republican senator during the Memorial Day weekend, escalating and hardening a fight over how to fix problems in a veterans' health-care system facing allegations of misconduct. ... The clash began Friday, when Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.) posted an open letter to veterans criticizing some veterans' groups for failing to call for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki after accusations that staffers at VA hospitals used secret bookkeeping to try to cover up delays in patient care. ... Two top executives at the VFW in a statement Monday called Mr. Burr's letter "an absolutely disgusting ambush style of politics" and "clearly one of the most dishonorable and grossly inappropriate acts that we've witnessed in more than forty years of involvement with the veteran community" (Tracy, 5/26).

Politico: Veterans' Groups Rip Richard Burr Over VA
Leading veterans groups are lashing out against Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) for an open letter he wrote scolding the organizations for not doing more to condemn Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. Calling Burr’s letter a "monumental cheap shot" and a "disgusting ambush style of politics," Veterans of Foreign Wars’ commander in chief William A. Thien and John E. Hamilton, the adjutant general, said on Monday that Burr should be ashamed of his conduct (Gold, 5/26).

The Washington Post: In VA Crisis, A General’s Deliberate Style Clashes With Impatience Of Young Veterans
In other wars, in other eras, Eric K. Shinseki might have been an ideal fit to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs through a crisis. He’s run some of Washington’s biggest and most complex bureaucracies. He knows what it’s like to fight back from life-changing war wounds, having lost half a foot to a land mine in Vietnam. He prefers to stay out of politics and work on problems quietly and in the background. ... The question facing President Obama as he seeks to contain yet another widening VA scandal is whether quiet and resolute professionalism still works in an age of noisy disputation (Jaffe, 5/26).

Politico: Dempsey: VA Scandal Demands Accountability
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says everyone involved in the Veterans Affairs scandal must take responsibility and be held accountable. In a taped interview marking Memorial Day with ABC's Martha Raddatz at Arlington National Cemetery, Gen. Martin Dempsey said on "This Week" the situation demands action from those in charge. "It is outrageous, if the allegations actually are documented and proven — and I suspect some of them will be," Dempsey said. "They've got to be held accountable" (Gass, 5/25).

The Hill: Dempsey Suspects Some VA Allegations Are True
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Sunday said he suspects some of the allegations surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs will be proven true, and that someone will eventually have to take responsibility for the entire VA. "Yeah, of course," Gen. Martin Dempsey said on ABC's "This Week" when asked if VA Secretary Eric Shinseki should be held accountable. "At some point, the chief executive, the chairman, whoever it is, has to take responsibility for the entire organization and its performance." The department is facing criticism of long wait times for veterans and some facilities are accused of falsifying reports to make it appear veterans received care faster than they did (Trujillo, 5/25). 

Los Angeles Times: Lawmakers Call For Criminal Investigation Of Veterans Affairs Facilities
The Justice Department should enter the investigation of whether Veterans Affairs employees have falsified records to cover up long waits at VA medical facilities, Democratic and Republican lawmakers said Sunday. "Only the Department of Justice and the FBI have the resources, the expertise and the authority to do a prompt and effective criminal investigation of the secret waiting lists, potential destruction of documents, falsification of records, in effect, the cooking of books and covering up that may have occurred," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said on CBS' "Face the Nation." Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, agreed. The "Department of Justice needs to get involved," he said on the same program (Simon, 5/25).

The Associated Press: Lawmakers Call For Tighter Grip On VA Hospitals
The chairmen of House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees on Sunday decried long waits and backlogs at the nations VA hospitals but stopped short of calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. "You've got an entrenched bureaucracy that exists out there that is not held accountable, that is shooting for goals, goals that are not helping the veterans," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House panel. "I think some people may by cooking the books" to suggest waiting times are shorter that they actually are, said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who chairs the counterpart Senate committee (Raum, 5/25).

The Des Moines Register: 'Heads Have To Roll' If VA Charges Proven
Two Iowa congressmen expressed confidence in the state's two VA hospitals Friday, but said they're concerned about reports that veterans are still waiting weeks or months for appointments. "When you talk to a lot of veterans, you find that while … initially getting in the system can be difficult and delayed, once they get into the system, they are very, very pleased," said Rep. Tom Latham, a Republican. Latham and a Democratic colleague, Rep. Dave Loebsack, toured the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital on Des Moines' north side (Leys, 5/23).

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