May 22 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama is “dithering” and has offered “no real action” to correct delays in health care at military veterans’ hospitals, the head of a veterans’ advocacy group said.
“Our membership is tremendously disappointed,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which says it represents about 300,000 combat vets.
“We expected to hear some news, that he was really going to tear into this issue with the severity that it deserves, and we didn’t hear that,” Rieckhoff said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend.
Obama yesterday promised a full investigation into allegations that some veterans’ hospitals kept phony waiting lists designed to hide lengthy delays in getting health care.
“If there is misconduct, it will be punished,” Obama said at a White House press briefing.
Rieckhoff said Obama should have offered more than an investigation. “What we’d like to hear him say is how he’s going to get to the bottom of the VA mess,” he said.
The Iraq war veteran stopped short of calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, even while criticizing the retired four-star Army general.
“Shinseki has lost the confidence of America’s veterans and of the American people,” Rieckhoff said.
The Veterans Health Administration provides care to about 6.5 million veterans annually at more than 1,700 hospitals, clinics and other facilities, according to congressional testimony from Shinseki.
Veterans Affairs Inspector General Richard Griffin is investigating allegations that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at a Phoenix hospital and that some facilities kept phony records to hide delays in treatment.
Obama said he dispatched his deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, to Phoenix yesterday to conduct a review of the entire VA health-care system, with a report due next month.
While Obama has increased funding for veterans, his record on veterans’ issues remains incomplete, Rieckhoff said.
“If he can’t get the VA to work, that will be his legacy,” he said.
Even with Congress in political gridlock on many issues, Rieckhoff said he’s optimistic it can pass a bill this year aimed at reducing the number of veterans’ suicides. He said the House may pass such a bill early next month.
In a separate interview for the program, former Obama adviser and campaign manager David Plouffe said there’s no reason to think Hillary Clinton will suffer any political damage in a potential 2016 Democratic presidential bid from questions raised by Republican strategist Karl Rove about her health.
“I think it was an errant missile,” Plouffe said of Rove’s recent broadside, which questioned whether Clinton may have suffered brain damage.
“Anybody who runs for president is going to have to answer questions about their health,” Plouffe said. “It’s clear that she’s out there with a lot of energy. So they’re going to have to come up with a better attack.”
Former Senator John Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican, said in a program interview that “the intensity with which the pushback came” by Clinton allies to rebut Rove’s attack “is an indication that she’s very likely to run” for president.
Sununu also defended a move by House Republicans to create a select committee to investigate the 2012 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. Yet Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attacks that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, is unlikely to be hurt politically by the Benghazi episode in 2016, he said.
“I don’t think it’ll factor heavily in the presidential race with Hillary Clinton,” Sununu said. “In fact, if I was Hillary Clinton, I’d say, ‘Sure, have the special committee now. Let’s put everything out here, allow this process to play out and essentially put the issue behind us.’”
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