Facing calls from Capitol Hill for his resignation, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki sought to speak directly to veterans Thursday, pledging to redouble efforts to "earn your trust."
If any allegations of staff falsifying records to conceal long waits for treatment at VA medical facilities are substantiated, "we will act," Shinseki wrote on the department’s website.
"As we approach our observance of Memorial Day and its special significance to our nation, VA is redoubling its efforts, with integrity and compassion, to earn your trust," the retired four-star general added.
A VA inspector general’s investigation is ongoing. In addition, Shinseki said, he has ordered a nationwide audit of all major VA healthcare facilities "to ensure understanding of, and compliance with, our appointment policy."
"You and your families deserve to have full faith in your VA, and we intend to earn it every day," he wrote.
He cited progress in reducing veterans’ homelessness, providing education benefits under the post-Sept. 11 GI Bill, and reducing the disability claims backlog.
"Notwithstanding these accomplishments, VA will do even better," he wrote.
Shinseki’s message to veterans comes as several congressional Republicans and some Democrats have called for his resignation in light of allegations that some VA facilities, including in Phoenix, maintained secret waiting lists to disguise the long waits veterans face to get medical care. Earlier this week, the inspector general's investigation expanded to encompass 26 facilities.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, complained earlier Thursday about veterans becoming “pawns in election-year gamesmanship.”
"That the extent of wrongdoing is unclear doesn’t seem to matter much to those more interested in scoring political points,” he said, citing “knee-jerk calls” for Shinseki’s ouster.
But Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, complained about the VA "stonewalling" his panel’s investigation of the department's problems.
Shinseki is scheduled to submit the preliminary results of his audit to President Obama next week.
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