Demanding accountability for allegations of wrongdoing by Veterans Affairs in Phoenix that may have resulted in deaths, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) addressed a Senate panel Thursday on the state of veterans health care.
McCain's full statement:
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you for the opportunity to make a brief statement this morning, particularly given that many of the serious allegations that will be discussed at today's hearing involve the treatment of veterans in my home state of Arizona.
"Since our nation's founding, Americans have been fighting in faraway places to make this dangerous world safer for the rest of us. They have been brave. They have sacrificed and suffered. They bear wounds and mourn losses they will never completely recover from - and we can never fully compensate them for. But, we can care for the injuries they suffered on our behalf, and for their physical and emotional recovery from the battles they fought to protect us. Decent care for our veterans is among the most solemn obligations a nation incurs, and we will be judged by God and history by how well we discharge ours.
"That is why I am so deeply troubled by the recent allegations of gross mismanagement, fraud and neglect at a growing number of Veterans Administration medical centers across the country.
"It has been more than a month since allegations that some 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA were first made public. To date, the Obama Administration has failed to respond in an effective manner. This has created in our veterans' community a crisis of confidence toward the VA - the very agency that was established to care for them.
"At a town hall forum I hosted in Phoenix last week, the families of four veterans who passed away in recent months stood before a crowded room to tell their stories. With tears in their eyes, they described how their loved ones suffered because they were not provided the care they needed and deserved. They recalled countless unanswered phone calls and ignored messages, endless wait times, mountains of bureaucratic red tape while their loved ones suffered debilitating and ultimately fatal conditions. No one should be treated this way in a country as great as ours. But treating those to whom we owe the most so callously - so ungratefully - is unconscionable, and we should all be ashamed.
"Since the initial reports in Arizona last month, we've seen this scandal go nation-wide, surfacing in at least 10 states across America.
"Secretary Shinseki has ordered a nationwide audit to look at the management practices at VA Medical Centers; several employees have been placed on administrative leave; and the VA Office of Inspector General is investigating the Phoenix VA.
"I respect the important role of the Inspector General, but my fellow veterans can't wait the many months it may take to complete its report. They need answers, accountability and leadership from this Administration and Congress now.
"Clearly, the VA is suffering from systemic problems in its culture that require strong, reform-minded leadership and accountability to address. At the same time, Congress must provide VA administrators with greater ability to hire and fire those charged with caring for our veterans. Most importantly, we must give veterans greater flexibility in how they get quality care in a timely manner, rather than continue to rely on a department that appears riddled with systemic problems in delivering care.
"How we care for those who risked everything for us is the most important test of a nation's character. Today, we are failing that test. We must do better tomorrow - much better.
"For the 9 million American veterans enrolled with he VA today, and for the families whose tragic stories we heard last week in Phoenix, who I know are still grieving their losses, it's time we live up to Lincoln's injunction, which serves as the VA's motto today, quote, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan."
"As I said before, it's time for answers, accountability and leadership from this Administration, and I look forward to hearing from Secretary Shinseki. I thank Chairman Sanders, Ranking Member Burr, and the members of the committee."