American Legion Takes Rare Step in Calling for VA Leader’s Resignation

In a move uncommon for the veterans group, the American Legion this week called for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, currently faced with a growing medical facilities scandal. Other groups are speaking up too.

In an uncommon move, the American Legion this week called for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, who faces a growing scandal around treatment delays at VA medical facilities. Other groups are speaking up too.

The American Legion does not call for resignations lightly—it last asked a public official to step down way back in 1978.

But this week, that 36-year streak ended. Daniel Dellinger, commander of the veterans organization, asked Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, along with several other VA officials, to step down from their posts amid an unfolding scandal regarding the treatment of veterans at medical facilities.

“This was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Dellinger, a onetime defender of Shinseki, told The New York Times.

According to The Washington Post, Dellinger said Shinseki’s “patriotism and sacrifice for this nation are above reproach” but that he has a record of “poor oversight and failed leadership” at the VA, which the retired four-star general has led since 2009.

A Scandal Grows

Calls for a leadership change at the VA have grown in recent weeks as details have surfaced about delayed medical treatment of veterans at a number of the agency’s offices—particularly in Arizona, Colorado, and Texas.

News accounts have cited whistleblower reports of a “secret waiting list” at a Phoenix facility intended to hide patients’ long waits for medical treatment, sometimes leading to preventable deaths. The VA has denied that such a list exists. An agency investigation of a Fort Collins, Colorado, facility found cases of falsified records. And this week, an Austin, Texas, facility also fell under scrutiny.

In a rare move, the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted on Thursday to subpoena documents from the agency to investigate the misconduct claims, and some lawmakers have called on Shinseki to resign. For his part, Shinseki, who has refused to step down, has ordered a “face-to-face audit” at all of the agency’s clinics.

Letting Members Decide

Military associations vary on whether Shinseki should resign. Two that are taking a different approach from the American Legion:

The Veterans of Foreign Wars has formally supported the VA secretary and opposed his resignation but emphasized that strong oversight needs to lead the day. “It is paramount that Secretary Shinseki get publicly in front of this immediately to address the valid concerns of veterans and their families, and to re-establish the credibility of the entire VA health and benefits systems, and that of his own office,” VFW National Commander William A. Thien said in a statement.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is essentially leaving the decision on the issue up to its members, placing a poll on its website asking whether Shinseki should step down. “IAVA is a next-generation, membership organization. Any decision we make will not be a hasty one. We are asking our diverse, national membership whether they have confidence in Secretary Shinseki to continue to lead the department,” IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff said in a statementThe Washington Times reported that the group is likely to make a decision in the next few days.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, currently facing resignation calls over a growing scandal. (photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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