A House committee voted Thursday to subpoena Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki over perceived failings and delayed treatment at VA hospitals that may be linked to as many as 40 deaths.
The subpoena, which Veteran Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said was just the second in the history of the committee, is aimed at turning over correspondence between Shinseki and other VA officials since early April. Miller noted that previous attempts to extract information about waiting times for treatment at the Phoenix VA hospital had not received adequate response.
“Yesterday, May 7, I received a response from VA that does not fully answer the very simple questions that I asked,” Miller said. “Therefore, the time for request for this matter is over.”
Shinseki brushed aside calls for his resignation in the wake of the reports, saying that he serves “at the pleasure of the president.”
On Wednesday, he said he was "angry" over claims that as many as 40 people died while waiting for medical care in the veterans' health care system and wants a full investigation.
"What I want veterans to know ... this is a good, quality health care system, not perfect, and when we stumble across our imperfections we're going to do something about it, we get to the bottom of it, and to the best of our abilities assure it never happens again," Shinseki said in an interview on NBC News.
But Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said on Tuesday the Veterans Affairs Department needed a "true transformation ... from top to bottom."
The American Legion, the largest U.S. veterans’ advocacy group, and Concerned Veterans for America joined the call on Monday for Shinseki, a former Army general twice wounded in Vietnam, to step down.
Veterans Affairs is the biggest U.S. health care system, incorporating 1,700 hospitals, clinics and other facilities. It has nearly 9 million people enrolled.
Shinseki put the director of a Phoenix hospital on indefinite leave last week while the department's inspector general probes whistleblowers' claims that veterans may have died while waiting for medical appointments. Two other hospital officials were also put on leave.
President Barack Obama has expressed support for Shinseki, and the VA has defended his record.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said on Monday that firing him "doesn't get us any closer to the truth or solve problems that may exist."