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Just days after Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki was forced to resign, lawmakers and veterans groups are pushing their vision for how the department should move forward — and who should be its new leader.
On Monday, officials from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America held a Capitol Hill news conference to urge White House officials to adopt a “Marshall Plan for veterans,” including more funding for VA, an overhaul of training and management at local facilities, and the appointment of younger veterans to various leadership positions in the department.
The group also wants Shinseki’s replacement to be “a post-9/11 veteran, or someone very familiar with our community,” said IAVA chief executive officer and founder Paul Rieckhoff.
“There are 2.8 million men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Rieckhoff said. “They are an incredibly talented, dynamic generation of leaders. There is definitely talent in that pool up for this challenge.”
Other veterans groups haven’t offered résumé requirements for the potential secretary, but note that simply replacing Shinseki won’t be enough to make them happy or fix VA’s problems.
In a statement Friday, American Legion officials called Shinseki’s departure just the first step in efforts to “weed out the incompetence and corruption” within VA.
Over the weekend, officials with the Veterans of Foreign Wars called for immediate action on care delay problems and improvements to VA infrastructure while warning against overuse of contracting authority to send veterans outside the department.
Shinseki was forced to resign after weeks of pressure from lawmakers and outside advocates furious over growing evidence that VA appointment schedulers were falsifying records to cover up veterans’ lengthy waits for care.
President Obama has appointed Shinseki’s deputy, Sloan Gibson, to serve as acting secretary for now, but also said that the administration is searching for a permanent replacement.
Lawmakers have asked the White House to move quickly on the matter, but the congressional schedule doesn’t leave much time for a confirmation process this year. The Senate is scheduled to be in session only eight more weeks before it breaks for the August recess, and the chamber is expected to return only briefly during the height of the fall elections.
Meanwhile, lawmakers will continue their oversight of the problem this week, giving the future secretary an advance look at the challenges awaiting on Capitol Hill.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is scheduled to discuss Thursday pending legislation sponsored by chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., covering dozens of veterans-related provisions, including language to “remove senior executives based on poor job performance while preventing wholesale political firings” and to lease 27 new health facilities to help with the veterans’ care delays.
But Republicans thus far have balked at the cost of the wide-ranging measure — estimates put the price tag at around $24 billion — and have pushed instead for passage of single-subject bills.