Group asks Obama to 'clean up' Department of Veterans Affairs

Group asks Obama to 'clean up' Department of Veterans Affairs
President Barack Obama talks with Marine Col. John Farnam after arriving on Air Force One at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. Obama is set to attend a political fundraiser during his brief stopover in San Diego. Farnam is the commanding officer at Miramar. (Gregory Bull / AP)

With President Obama in San Diego for a political fundraising event Thursday, a national veterans group called for him to "clean up" the Department of Veterans Affairs, mired in scandal over alleged lapses in medical care.

"The president is here in San Diego," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, at a news conference outside the War Memorial Building Auditorium in Balboa Park. "He needs to tell veterans what he's doing to clean up VA."


Rieckhoff said his group is polling its 200,000 members to determine whether it should join the American Legion in calling for the resignation or firing of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

A House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday voted to subpoena Shinseki for emails and documents tied to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, which has been accused of maintaining a secret "waiting list" of veterans, some of whom died while waiting for treatment.

Other controversies have swirled around Veterans Affairs facilities nationwide.

"He's yet to address the veterans," Rieckhoff said.  "The president needs to assure them that he's taking action."

Rieckhoff noted that, so far, "San Diego has been one of the higher-performing VAs."

VA San Diego has "mechanisms in place" to ensure that all new patients are seen within 90 days, with most seen within 14 days, and urgent care is "available 24/7," according to director Jeffrey Gering. More than 98% of existing patients are seen within 14 days if they request a specialty care appointment, Gering said.

"I am meeting with the scheduling clerks to reinforce, in person, the importance that they schedule ethically and with integrity," Gering said. More than 90% of the clerks are veterans.

The White House has signaled support for Shinseki, a retired Army general who was named to the Veterans Affairs post as a reformer.

By some reports, the San Diego region has the highest number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the country. The region is "the largest base" of membership in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Rieckhoff said.

The group has formed a Rapid Response Referral Program to assist veterans who have experienced undue delay in getting care from the VA. Rieckhoff said veterans in San Diego and elsewhere can call 855-917-2743 for help.

Obama attended a $10,000-a-plate fundraising lunch for Democratic candidates, held at the La Jolla home of Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, before leaving for Northern California.