Grimes and other Democrat candidates call for Veterans Affairs secretary to step aside

Associated PressMay 23, 2014 

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and a chorus of other congressional candidates from both parties are calling for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to leave amid a growing crisis over veterans' health care.

Grimes, who is challenging Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, called Thursday for new leadership as the VA investigates 26 hospitals nationwide over allegations of treatment delays and deaths.

"I don't see how that breach of trust with our veterans can be repaired if the current leadership stays in place," Grimes said in a statement.

On Friday, Democrat Michelle Nunn, who is seeking Georgia's open Senate seat, made a similar declaration.

In her statement, Nunn stopped short of calling for the firing of Shinseki, a retired four-star general.

"It has become increasingly clear that we need new leadership to build confidence, focus and accountability at the VA to fix what is wrong with the agency," Nunn said. "I hope that Gen. Shinseki will step aside to allow for fresh leadership to tackle these pressing issues and support the veterans that the general is deeply committed to serving."

Georgia and Kentucky are key battlegrounds in the upcoming midterm elections, as Democrats see Nunn and Grimes as their best opportunities to thwart efforts by Republicans seeking a majority in the Senate. The GOP needs just six more seats to take control of the chamber.

McConnell said Friday that Shinseki has "obviously not done a good job, but it's deeper than just him."

"I think it'd be time for him to go as well, but it has to get below the secretary," he said.

Earlier this week, he said problems at the VA were "a management problem, not a money problem."

Both Grimes and Nunn have kept their distance from President Barack Obama as they look to woo moderate voters in their states. Just recently, both Nunn and Grimes refused to say whether they would have voted for the federal health care law, Obama's signature legislative achievement. And Republicans quickly sought to portray Nunn's statement on Shinseki as a reversal, noting that she had said in a May 11 debate that she would "defer to the president's judgment" when asked whether Shinseki should resign.

The number of sitting politicians and challengers calling for Shinseki's resignation has grown in both parties. In Georgia, the two Republicans competing in a runoff for the party's Senate nomination, Rep. Jack Kingston and former Dollar General CEO David Perdue, have both called for Shinseki to resign.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, stopped short of calling for Shinseki to resign Thursday but said he was getting closer to doing so. He called the reports about the VA appalling and said someone should be held accountable.

Shinseki, 71, said Thursday that he intends to remain on the job. The former Army chief of staff said "this is not the first time" he has faced controversy in his career.

Obama's deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, was in Phoenix on Thursday to meet with hospital staff. The director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System has been placed on leave while the inspector general investigates claims that as many as40 people died while awaiting treatment there.

The allegations have raised fresh concerns about the Obama administration's management of a department that has struggled to keep up with an influx of veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Vietnam veterans who need more care as they age.

Herald-Leader reporter Sam Youngman contributed to this story.

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