Veterans Affairs secretary Eric Shinseki testified before Congress Thursday that he's "mad as hell" about allegations that veterans were placed on secret waiting lists at VA hospitals and died while awaiting care. But when Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, called for a criminal investigation into he matter, Shinseki appeared reluctant to take any action until the VA inspector general issues a report on the growing scandal.
"Let me raise sort of the elephant in the room. Isn't there evidence here of criminal wrongdoing--that is, falsifying records, false statements to the federal government," asked Blumenthal. "Wouldn't it be appropriate to ask for assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation or some other similar agency, given that the IG's resources are so limited that the task is so challenging, and the need for results is so powerful?"
"I'll work with the I.G. to make that available to him if that's his request," Shinseki replied.
"May I suggest respectfully, Mr. Secretary, that it's your responsibility to make that judgment about the IG's resources," Blumenthal said, adding that in his opinion "there is more than sufficient reason to involve other investigative agencies."
House Republicans have been calling for an FBI investigation of the VA scandal for weeks, but Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that he has no plans to launch an investigation until the VA concludes its own internal review.
Following the conclusion of the Senate hearing, Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the VA shouldn't be trusted to police itself. "I have no confidence whatsoever an internal VA review will yield results that are either accurate or useful," Miller said in a statement. "VA officials in Washington have known about problems with medical care access for at least six years and have failed to fix them. That’s why the only way we can begin to fix VA’s delays in care problem is via an independent bipartisan commission. Anything less is unacceptable."
At Thursday's Senate hearing, the VA's undersecretary for health Robert Petzel further undermined confidence in the department when he said he didn't even know if someone caught creating a secret waiting list would be fired.
"If someone were found to be manipulating inappropriately the scheduling system, they would be disciplined," Petzel said.
"Would they lose their job?" asked Georgia GOP senator Johnny Isakson.
"I don’t know whether that’s the appropriate level of punishment or not," Petzel replied.