MESA, Ariz. — At a public meeting in Mesa, Ariz., on Friday, Arizona Sen. John McCain maintained a strong focus on the allegations of failed care at veterans hospitals in Phoenix and around the country.
McCain had been one of the strongest voices for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned from his position Friday morning, but said he was sad to see Shinseki’s career end the way it has.
“Gen. Shinseki was a brave soldier. He served his country with honor and I feel, frankly, a little bit badly that his career has had to end up this way,” McCain said. “He left part of himself on the battlefield in combat, so I’m not here to condemn Gen. Shinseki.”
McCain said after an Inspector General report released this week confirmed excessive wait times at VA hospitals, McCain, along with his Arizona counterpart, Sen. Jeff Flake, and others in Congress, agreed it was time for Shinseki to resign.
“We are all responsible for what we do…all of us in our jobs are responsible, and (when) we don’t do our jobs, obviously, then there is a penalty,” McCain said.
McCain said an overhaul of the VA system is necessary and said he wants to see a card-carrying system that would allow veterans to seek care anywhere they choose and then be reimbursed by the VA.
“You take that card and you need some care…and go to a provider of your choice and then get that care,” he said. “There’s no reason why a veteran who lives in rural Arizona should have to get in a van and drive for hours to Phoenix to get at the VA hospital the same care that he or she could get in their hometown.”
McCain also fired criticism at President Barack Obama for his speech at Shinseki’s resignation.
“Today I saw the president basically not saying anything,” McCain said. “He just sort of said, ‘Well we’re going to fix the waiting list.’ The waiting list is not the problem — it’s part of the problem — but the whole Veterans Administration has to be revised and revamped.”
Eric Shinseki will be temporarily replaced by Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who McCain said he was not very familiar with and could not comment.
McCain did say he would like to see a prompt permanent replacement for Shinseki and recommended Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, who is a medical doctor, for the position.
“He (Coburn) is very familiar with the Veteran Affairs issue (and) he is the greatest reformer in the United States Senate,” he said. “I believe that Dr. Tom Coburn would be the best possible replacement.”