White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough defended the White House reaction to the scandals emerging from Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals around the country, saying on CBS' "Face the Nation" that President Obama "is madder than hell - I've got the scars to prove it."
In an interview with CBS News Chief White House Correspondent, McDonough said that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is the right person to lead the investigation into reports that veterans have been put on secret waiting lists to hide the number of people who were not being treated within the VA's goal of 14 days. Several Republican lawmakers and The American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group, have called on Shinseki to resign.
"General Shinseki continues to work this every single day...and he will continue to work these issues until they're fixed," McDonough said. "The president will continue to demand that he and all of us who work for him continue to fix these things until they are functioning the way that our veterans believe they should and...so that they get the services and the benefits that they have earned."
In a separate interview on "Face the Nation," American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger stood by the organization's insistence that Shinseki should step down.
"He should be coming forward with the same leadership he showed in the military as a four-star general into the VA and it just hasn't happened. The accountability just hasn't been there and I think it is systematic of the entire system," Dellinger said. He said that under similar circumstances the CEO of a major corporation would have stepped down or a member of the military would have been relieved of duty.
In his interview with Garrett, McDonough highlighted the administration's other efforts to help veterans like funding for the GI Bill and an increase in spending on the VA. But Dellinger said those efforts should be considered separately from the other problems being seen at VA hospitals nationwide now.
"We realize that the administration has done a lot for the veterans, but that isn't the issue. The issue is we're having veterans die waiting for the care that they've earned," he said. "This has been an ongoing problem."
Dellinger said that the multitude of issues that have come to light about the VA, from reports that the agency has paid out more than $36 million in claims of delay of treatment to the bonuses routinely paid to employees, show "egregious mismanagement" of the entire system that means a cultural change is necessary.
He also said the president needs to speak to the nation about the ongoing scandal.
"He needs to make a statement to show the employees of VA that this needs to change now. One death is tragic. But when you hide it, that's unforgivable," Dellinger said.
The president has not spoken publicly about the scandal since late April, when he was asked about it at a press conference during his trip to Asia. Asked about his relative silence, McDonough said, "The president has been an active voice for increased resources and reform at the veterans administration since he joined the veterans committee in the Senate."
Pressed on the issue, he added, "Nobody is more outraged about this problem right now. And he will continue to press as it relates to this question of timely access to care until it is fixed...what we're going to do is we're going to get to the bottom of them, ensure we understand exactly what happened, and ensure that it never happens again."