A "saddened" Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Friday he disagreed with President Obama's decision to accept Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki's resignation.
The retired four-star general stepped down Friday after a weeks-long controversy over allegations that Department of Veterans Affairs managers falsified records to mask long wait times at its hospitals.
Sanders, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has stood by Shinseki and defended the care provided by VA hospitals, as we reported in last week's Fair Game. He did so again Friday during an appearance on CNN, when host Wolf Blitzer asked whether he thought Obama did "the right thing in accepting [Shinseki's] resignation."
"I would have preferred otherwise, to be honest with you," Sanders said. "I think this guy is a very gutsy guy, who I think wanted the opportunity to clean house and make the changes that he now understood were necessary."
Sanders hailed Shinseki, a former Army chief of staff, for publicly contradicting Bush administration officials during the run-up to the war in Iraq over how many United States troops would be required to occupy the nation.
"This is a guy who has an enormous amount of guts," Sanders said. "He is a well-respected military leader. So I am saddened by his loss. I think, also, he doesn't get the credit he deserves."
Sanders argued that Shinseki had found success in converting the VA to an electronic records system, shortening wait times at VA hospitals and reducing homelessness among veterans.
But on Wednesday, the VA's inspector general released a report finding that 1,700 veterans were improperly left off an official waiting list at a Phoenix VA facility and that many patients were forced to wait 115 days for an initial primary care appointment. The inspector general, Richard Griffin, said that manipulation of waiting lists was "systemic" throughout the VA.
Sanders said Friday, "Clearly right now, short term, we've got to make sure that every veteran on a waiting list gets health care as quickly as possible."
But he also continued to defend the quality of care the VA doles out.
"If you talk to veterans in Vermont and around the country, what most of them will tell you is that once they are in the system... the quality of health care is good," he said. "The problem is accessing the system in a timely manner."