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‘Black Eye’ Memorial Day: American Legion Says VA Scandal Sullied Holiday

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki re-enters the hearing room after testifying to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee about wait times veterans face to get medical care on May 15, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki re-enters the hearing room after testifying to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee about wait times veterans face to get medical care on May 15, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — The American Legion says the VA scandal has left a “black eye” for veterans this Memorial Day.

Verna Jones, director of veteran affairs and rehabilitation at the American Legion National Headquarters, tells CBSDC that veterans are hurt by the ongoing scandal.

“This VA scandal is leaving a black eye every day for veterans,” Jones told CBSDC. “Veterans deserve more than the VA is giving. Veterans are losing faith in the system.”

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The scandal erupted after it was reported that 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for treatment at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The Phoenix staff reportedly kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide delays in care.

Jones says promises were not kept to veterans who were promised a lifetime of health care for serving.

“Veterans are very disappointed. Promises were made to those who served their country and they deserve that,” Jones explained to CBSDC. “No veteran expects to go into a VA facility and have their health care worsen because they have to wait.”

Jones, who said there was no awareness of an alleged secret waiting list, wants accountability to be taken.

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“There needs to be some transparency and then there needs to be stronger, close cooperation with other veteran partners. We need to help fix this problem,” Jones said, while stating that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki should resign.

Speaking to CBS News Friday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that “someone has to be accountable” but still kept his support behind Shinseki.

“Why did this happen? How was it allowed to happen? Who’s accountable? Someone has to be accountable here, like in any institution,” Hagel told CBS News.

Shinseki, 71, said Thursday that he intends to remain on the job. “I serve at the pleasure of the president,” he told reporters at the Capitol. The former Army general and chief of staff added that “this is not the first time” he has faced controversy in his career.

The inspector general at the Veterans Affairs Department says 26 VA facilities nationwide are under investigation, including the Phoenix hospital at the center of allegations about treatment delays and secret waiting lists intended to hide delays in care.

The allegations have raised fresh concerns about the Obama administration’s management of a department that has been struggling to keep up with the influx of veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam veterans needing more care as they age.

Senate Democrats said they are working on their own legislation to make it easier to fire or demote executives at VA.

“I think what the House has done is not unreasonable,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Thursday, adding that he is confident the Senate will act quickly on a measure being pushed by Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The political maneuvering came as the Senate Appropriations Committee added language to a military construction spending bill that, like the House proposal, would give the VA secretary broader authority to remove low-performing officials.

“The veterans are not getting the medical care they need,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee “Some heads need to roll.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney, meanwhile, said Thursday the Obama administration supports the goal of the House bill, but added, “We do have some concerns that some provisions could result in significant litigation.”

The administration is working with Congress on better language, Carney told reporters.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday that reports of “horrors” at the VA were “appalling.”

His voice cracking, Boehner said veterans “are men and women who served our country, and we’ve not just let them down, we’ve let them die. This is awful stuff, and someone ought to be held accountable for it.”

Boehner has not called for Shinseki to resign, but he said, “I have to admit that I am getting a little closer” to doing so.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, called allegations of misconduct at the VA “completely and utterly unacceptable” and urged a broad review of services for veterans.

Pelosi, D-Calif., said she was open to an idea advanced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to allow veterans to receive medical care at private hospitals.

“We can’t have another backlog of people waiting for permission to go to a federally qualified clinic in a region,” she said. “We have to think in a big way because this is a very big challenge.”

Obama’s deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, was in Phoenix Thursday to meet with hospital staff. The director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System has been placed on leave while the inspector general investigates claims that up to 40 people died while awaiting treatment in Phoenix.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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