CBS News- Eric Shinseki's tenure as secretary of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Department is increasingly on shaky ground as a growing number of Democrats have joined the call for him to step down from his post.
The turning point for many lawmakers came Wednesday when an interim report released by the VA Office of Inspector General appeared to confirm allegations of wrongdoing at a Phoenix hospital facility. The report concluded that 1,700 veterans at the VA medical center never placed on waiting lists to receive care, and that the true waiting time for initial primary care appointments was 115 days - 91 longer than the 24 days reported by the hospital.
Shinseki sought to contain some of the damage with an op-ed in USA Today Thursday in which he called the reports findings "reprehensible" and pledged to take immediate action. Shinseki wrote that he had already directed the Veterans Health Administration to reach out to each of the 1,700 patients who were not on a waiting list and that an independent site team in Phoenix is implementing the recommendations made by the inspector general.
"We, at the Department of Veterans Affairs, are redoubling our efforts, with commitment and compassion, to restore integrity to our processes to earn veterans' trust," Shinseki wrote.
But that pledge seems to be too little and too late for the eight Senate Democrats who now say it's time for Shinseki to go. Led by Colorado Sen. Mark Udall Wednesday, seven more Democrats - Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Mark Warner of Virginia, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Al Franken of Minnesota, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and John Walsh of Montana, the Senate's only Iraq War veteran -have called for his resignation. Four of those eight Democrats - Udall, Hagan, Shaheen and Walsh - are facing tough re-election challenges this November and some have been targets of recent Republican attacks over the VA issue.
Shinseki has also lost the support of key committee chairman across Congress including Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who heads the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the top Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., another vocal veteran of the Senate, also said Wednesday that President Obama should fire Shinseki if he does not resign.
CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett reports that there is no imminent decision from the White House about firing Shinseki, but that Mr. Obama's support for him is conditional and could slip, something the president hinted toward when he addressed the scandal last week.
The president indicated in that statement that will wait for the results of multiple investigations into the allegations of long wait times and ensuring cover ups to conclude before taking any further action. Shinseki is working on a nationwide review of patient access to care and is expected to deliver preliminary results soon, And Mr. Obama's deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, is conducting a broader review of what is and is not working within the VA that is expected next month.
House Speaker John Boehner, on the other hand, said he is going to continue to "reserve judgment" on Shinseki but will not call for him to resign yet.
"The question I ask myself is, is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what's really going on? And the answer I keep getting is no."
Boehner said the president should be the one held accountable for the scandal because he has been informed of problems at the agency in the past.
At a press conference a few hours later, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., echoed Boehner's focus on the president and said Mr. Obama should "specifically address what he plans to do to fix this problem now."
Cantor did not endorse Shinseki's behavior, but also didn't call for his resignation, saying, "Its beyond clear that the VA has not performed up to anyone's standards under his stewardship but we must remember: this is about more than one man. This is about millions of veterans and they deserve more accountability than one resignation."
Miller's committee confronted three VA officials in a tense hearing Wednesday night that lasted for more than four hours. Democrats and Republicans joined together to criticize the agency and accuse the officials of not doing enough withholding some documents sought by the committee.
Thomas Lynch, the assistant deputy undersecretary for health for clinical operations, conceded during the hearing that a focus on meeting performance goals had distracted the agency from its ultimate mission of providing medical care. Still, he insists the Phoenix hospital did not maintain and later destroy a secret waiting list of veterans awaiting care, saying instead that it was "interim work product" used to reschedule patients that was discarded for patient protection reasons once it was no longer needed in accordance with federal guidelines.
The unhappy lawmakers promised the VA had not yet seen the end of the aggressive oversight.
"Until VA understands that we're deadly serious, you can expect us to be over your shoulder every single day," Miller warned.