Sen. Murray defends VA Secretary Shinseki … for now

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., says she wants Congress to concentrate on the VA problems rather than confirmation of a new VA secretary. (Photo: KCPQ-TV)

SEATTLE --  Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., continues to have harsh words for the VA.

“I am completely frustrated,” she said during an interview in Seattle Tuesday.  “This is something I’ve been yelling about, demanding accountability, asking for the right answers.”

Murray wants to get to the bottom of the recent problems with VA facilities, where some veterans have died waiting weeks and months for treatment.  Murray pushed to add $5 million for the VA Inspector General to do a full nationwide review.  She is also sponsoring legislation to prohibit bonuses to any VA executives and medical directors until the investigation is complete.

Murray, who is a long-standing member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, says she’s complained about the long wait times for years.

“ been told over and over, 'Don’t worry, we’re getting it done,'” Murray said.  “And then to hear again stories like this nationally … is really frustrating.”

Murray says there is no evidence that any VA facilities in Washington state are covering up their wait list times for vets seeking treatment.  But she admits there have been inexcusable delays in our state, which some argue have led to deaths.

“The question is, are they trying to game the system to look good, or are they just so overwhelmed that they don’t want to tell anybody?” Murray asked.  “Or have they been told, don’t say you need more money.”

More and more people are calling for the ouster of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.  Murray stopped short of calling for a change at the top.

“What I’m really focused on right now is what is the problem, what is the extent of it, why has it not been fixed and how are we going to fix it?  I want Shinseki to come forward with that.  And I’ll answer your question after we find out whether he does or not.”

Murray doesn’t think right now is the time to make a change.

“I don’t want to be diverted by, oh, now Congress is going to have a new secretary and they have to go through the process and everybody’s focused on that rather than focus on what the problem is.  And that is getting our veterans in for the care they deserve.”