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Utah congressional candidate says veterans boss must go

Published May 29, 2014 12:25 pm

Scandal • Owens wants the president to fire Shinseki; some worry about politicizing issue.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Democratic congressional candidate Doug Owens called Wednesday for the immediate resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, saying the unfolding quagmire about delays in care for fighting men and women calls for sweeping reforms.

Owens said the men and women who defend the United States deserve better and should have confidence they will receive "the best and most timely care possible."

"It is clear that the Department of Veterans Affairs is in dire need of sweeping reform," Owens said in a statement. "It is also clear that Eric Shinseki is ill-equipped to lead that effort," Owens stated. "The Department of Veterans Affairs needs new leadership now."

Owens said President Barack Obama should demand Shinseki resign his post.

A preliminary report by the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General found "serious conditions" at the Phoenix VA health care system and revealed patient care was not properly scheduled. The report came on the heels of allegations of long delays in the system providing medical services to patients.

The report noted that 1,700 veterans were waiting for an appointment, but were not listed in the official electronic waiting list in order to decrease the reported wait times for care and cushion the office's performance numbers.

Earlier, USA Today reported that VA staff in Fort Collins, Colo., were taught how to falsify records to make it appear that doctors there were seeing 14 veterans a day.

Congress has begun holding hearings to investigate the unfolding scandal. Some Republican lawmakers, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, have also called for Shinseki's resignation and a criminal investigation into the VA matter.

The latest scandal comes atop previous reports of long backlogs — more than 300,000 individual cases — that can take some 125 days to process, although the backlog is half what it was last year before Shinseki made relieving that logjam a priority.

Dave Hansen, campaign manager for Mia Love, Owens' Republican opponent in Utah's 4th Congressional District, said the issue needs to be fixed, not politicized.

"This issue of providing adequate and exceptional treatment to our brave men and women who serve our country is not a left or right issue. It's an American issue," Hansen said.

"The deficiencies that do exist need to be brought up to speed as quickly as possible in any way possible. This is not an issue that should be used for political gain by any candidate, and those in responsible positions hopefully will make the decisions that first and foremost provide the service to the men and women who need it."

Terry Schow, the former Utah director of veterans affairs, said veteran care shouldn't be politicized.

"I'm kind of frustrated by the constant demand for the secretary to resign by a number of folks," Schow said. "Shinseki is among the best we've ever had."

Replacing Shinseki would mean the new secretary would need six to 12 months to understand how the system works. Instead, in Shinseki, the department has "a four-star general who feels that people have had the wool pulled over their eyes and he's going to stay there until it's fixed."

"I fear that there's been a bit of partisan politics that have been injected into this," Schow said. "I know there are folks who don't care for Obama but he's put a lot of money into the system."

Dan Harrie contributed to this report.

gehrke@sltrib.com Twitter: @RobertGehrke