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As pressure builds for a clear accounting at Veterans Affairs over allegations of hidden wait lists and delays that cost veterans their lives, the Obama administration’s response has been roundly criticized.
In an interview with CBS News, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said President Barack Obama is "madder than hell" about the possibility that care was denied to people who needed treatment. But CBS chief White House correspondent Major Garrett pushed McDonough on what Obama is doing about it.
"It's been nearly three weeks since the president has commented on this publicly," Garrett said."Where's the president been?
McDonough never really provided a clear answer to Garrett, so we wanted to see exactly what the president has said since the story broke.
The White House press office pointed us to Obama’s answer during a press conference in Manila, Philippines, on April 28. A reporter asked if Obama would pledge to fix things.
"The moment we heard about the allegations around these 40 individuals who had died in Phoenix, I immediately ordered the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Gen. (Eric) Shinseki, to investigate," Obama said. "We also have an IG (inspector general) investigation taking place. And so we take the allegations very seriously."
Since that day -- just about three weeks ago -- the president has made no public statement. His press secretary Jay Carney invoked the president’s name when he announced the resignation of the under secretary for health at Veterans Affairs on May 16, but Obama himself has not spoken since.
News of problems at the VA
While troubles at VA hospitals have been covered for months -- CNN reported in January that veterans were dying due to health care delays -- a House hearing on April 9 drew broader attention. Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., revealed that between the VA’s own investigation and that of the committee’s staff, delays may have caused the deaths of about 40 veterans who sought care at the VA hospital in Phoenix.
Soon after, a retired clinic director from that hospital came forward and described how administrators used hand-written lists to conceal the long wait-times that over 1,000 veterans endured.
More reports came in from the VA Office of the Medical Inspector that managers at a facility in Fort Collins, Colo., also had falsified wait-time records.
Obama assigned deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors to oversee the VA review.
Shinseki, meanwhile, faced a tough session in front of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on May 15. At the hearing, Shinseki said three top executives in Phoenix had been put on administrative leave and that a full investigation and audit was underway.
On Monday, May 19, the White House said the public would hear from the president soon.
Garrett said it had been about three weeks since Obama had spoken in public about the problems at the VA. The White House confirms that Obama addressed the issue last April 28.
That’s three weeks as of Monday. We rate the claim True.
CBS News, Face the Nation, May 18, 2014
White House, Remarks by President Obama and President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines in Joint Press Conference, April 28, 2014
White House, Statement by the Press Secretary on the Resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, May 16, 2014
House Veterans Affairs Committee, Opening Statement of The Honorable Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, April 9, 2014
CNN, Veterans dying because of health care delays, Jan. 30, 2014
CNN, Phoenix VA officials put on leave after denial of secret wait list, May 1, 2014
American Legion, Legion on Petzel resignation: 'business as usual', May 16, 2014
Veterans of Foreign Wars, VFW outraged by VA allegations, May 15, 2014
Washington Post, As outrage over VA allegations grows, Obama and aides scramble to respond, May 20, 2014
Washington Post, A guide to the VA health care controversy, May 15, 2014
Arizona Republic, Deaths at Phoenix VA hospital may be tied to delayed care, April 10, 2014
Fox News, Obama assigning deputy chief of staff Nabors to oversee VA review, May 14, 2014
Email interview, Eric Schultz, White House Press Office, May 20, 2014
Email interview, Joe Davis, public affairs director, Veterans of Foreign Wars, May 20, 2014
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