Congressman calling for resignation of VA secretary

by: Scott MacFarlane Updated:

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WASHINGTON —

Rep. David Scott of Atlanta is calling for the resignation of the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs after Channel 2 Action News investigated major issues at the Atlanta VA hospital.

An audit found a total of four patient deaths inside the hospital, including suicides, due to mismanagement.

The nation's VA secretary, Eric Shinseki, has been taking heat ever since Channel 2 Action News broke the story.

Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane has learned now Shinseki is taking heat from a leader of his own party.

"Those four soldiers who committed suicide, they were left behind. Because nobody's been held accountable for that, this VA secretary should resign," Scott said.

Shinseki oversees the care of hundreds of thousands of veterans nationwide and dozens and dozens of VA medical centers and hospitals.

He was not named in the April 2013 internal VA audit which revealed some staggering and downright ugly problems at the medical center in DeKalb County.

The audit found not only the suicides, but also patients that overdosed and mental health patients roaming free in the building.

But the deaths were linked to mismanagement inside the system.

A new director has been brought in to run the facility and congressional leaders visited to meet with managers in person to talk about the scandal.

But Scott said he's troubled Shinseki hasn't shown up.

"He, the head of the VA, has yet to set foot in that hospital. That is unacceptable," Scott said.

In response to the congressman, a VA spokeswoman wouldn't say if or when the secretary will visit Atlanta.

But she said, "We have made progress to better serve veterans today and to transform the department for the future, but there is more work to do."

The secretary's office is refusing to say if he will come to Atlanta.

Government pushing bill to increase mental health funds for vets

Even with the military facing huge budget cuts, Channel 2 Action News has learned the government is poised to make a major boost in what it spends treating veterans with mental health problems.

Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane spotted the funds buried in a U.S. House spending bill.

MacFarlane said even with seemingly everything being cut, the bill still called for a huge boost for veteran suicide prevention.

A Veterans Affairs department report shows more than 20 veteran suicides happen each day nationwide.

It's a particularly troubling issue in Atlanta in the wake of a Channel 2 investigation into the Atlanta VA Medical Center that showed a series of patient deaths, including suicides, that happened inside the medical center system itself beneath the noses of management.

Even amid a budget crisis and widespread cuts, members of both parties want to ratchet up what's spent on mental health care.

"They deserve good management of their taxpayer dollars but they also deserve to make sure that we're not cutting vital services," said Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta.

Former VA administrator Daren Selnick told Channel 2 Action News the VA's mental health program is facing huge hurdles.

Some of those hurdles include a shortage of trained mental health specialists and distrust among the vets themselves.

"A lot of veterans will go to volunteer mental health professionals because they don't trust the government and they don't like the treatment," Selnick said.

The agency said it has been bulking up its mental health program lately.

A VA statement said the agency has "rescued 26,000 veterans by operating a suicide help line system" and unveiled public service announcements to inform vets about mental health programs.

Scott said it wasn't a shortage of money or programs that caused the series of suicides at the Atlanta VA, it was mismanagement.