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In this 2012 file photo, Congressman Marlin Stutzman, right, and chairman Jeff Miller talk to veterans during a Veteran's Affairs Forum and Legislative Update.

Stutzman, Donnelly say VA troubles deeper than top leader

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Donnelly

WASHINGTON – The resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki is not nearly enough to repair the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Indiana congressional members agreed Friday.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., each said the department needs a major overhaul to stop the preventable deaths of patients, medical treatment delays and backlogs of benefits claims that led Shinseki to quit.

“I think it is the right thing for him to resign.… I don’t think he should be the only one to go,” Stutzman said in a Capitol Hill interview. “If he is stepping down, there should be a lot of others stepping down.”

Donnelly said in a statement that “this isn’t just about one man - it is about a culture change. We need to hold accountable those who were carrying out or encouraging these practices day to day.”

Neither Donnelly nor Stutzman – each a former member of the House VA Committee – had sought Shinseki’s resignation, as many other federal lawmakers had.

“I think the problems go deeper than Shinseki,” Stutzman said. “We have had numerous conversations about the VA in Fort Wayne, and I have been frustrated not with local administration as much as that middle tier, where it seems like things just get lost.”

He said VA suffers from “communications gaps” and “execution and getting changes made.”

The Republican House voted Wednesday to give the VA secretary more authority to fire career bureaucrats.

Donnelly also took VA underlings to task, saying “the current scheduling system is woefully inadequate” for military veterans seeking health care.

Asked whether he would support full or partial privatization of VA services, Stutzman said: “I am open to giving veterans that option.… If they would rather go to Parkview or Lutheran (hospital networks), they should have that ability to do so.

"And that might be one way to hold the VA accountable, is to force them into competing with the private sector and letting the veterans choose where they are going to get their service.”

Donnelly said Shinseki “served our country honorably, and I thank him for his service.”

Stutzman expressed similar sentiments.

“I really did have confidence in Shinseki,” he said. “I have met him several times. I had breakfast with him. I was confident in his abilities. He seemed to be genuinely sincere. So it’s really disappointing.”

President Barack Obama “is the boss” of the VA secretary, Stutzman said. “He’s got to make sure this job is being done.”

bfrancisco@jg.net

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