POLITICS

Dozens Of Hearings Later, Lawmakers Pressed On Where They've Been On VA Dysfunction

05/25/2014 11:31 am ET | Updated May 27, 2014

WASHINGTON -- Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has been under fire for weeks amid reports of misconduct at VA facilities around the country.

But on Sunday, CNN's Candy Crowley pressed lawmakers to explain how they're not responsible, too, for failing to provide adequate oversight of VA hospitals given that they've held dozens of hearings on VA matters.

"We added up the number of hearings together that the two of you have had since 2013, the beginning of the last session. It was well over 90," Crowley, who hosts CNN's "State of the Union," told Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who chair the House and Senate committees on veterans affairs, respectively.

"You had 10 joint ones," Crowley continued. "You have to wonder now looking at this mess, and everyone saying we knew this and knew that ... is this not also a failure of oversight?"

Miller said his committee has known about long wait times at VA facilities for more than a year. He said his panel has held more than 70 oversight hearings on issues ranging from disability claims to the backlog in access to care.

"Sure, everybody is probably culpable in this," he conceded. "We're doing what we've been asked to do. That is to find out the information."

President Barack Obama vented his anger last week over the allegations of misconduct at 26 VA facilities around the country, including at a Phoenix hospital where 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for care and staff allegedly rigged record-keeping to cover up long wait times. Obama insisted that anyone found to have manipulated or falsified records at a VA facility "will be punished," but he has urged patience as the administration carries out its probe.

On Sunday, Sanders made the case that veterans and veterans groups overwhelmingly say that people receive good to excellent care within the VA system. The problem is that 2 million new veterans have flooded an already crowded system, he said, which means there needs to be funding to support them.

"They're treating 6.5 million people a year, 230,000 people every single day. Is there waste in the system? Absolutely," Sanders said. "But at the end of the day, when you have 2 million new veterans coming into the system, some with very difficult and complicated problems, I do think we have to take a hard look and see if we have the resources."

Neither Miller nor Sanders said Shinseki should step down over the issues, at least not at this point.

"I don't think it's fair to blame Shinseki for all the problems," Sanders said. "Can he do better? Yes. We all can do better. Every veteran is entitled to health care."

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