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VA secretary had been on borrowed time for a while

May 30, 2014 - By David Espo, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Republicans and Democrats alike want it both ways when it comes to any misdeeds at veterans hospitals, each side accusing the other of seeking unseemly political gain from the misfortune of the nation's warriors, while simultaneously maneuvering for an advantage in midterm elections.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee jumped in on Thursday, charging Republicans in key races with "politicizing (a) horrible crisis" for political gain -- then accusing them of compiling "shameful, anti-veterans" records.

The same two-sided tactic had previously occurred to Republicans and their allies.

One House committee chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, said the problems now coming to light at VA hospitals shouldn't be used for political gain.

Yet the Republican National Committee announced it was making automated calls to voters in 10 states with Democratic-held Senate seats on the ballot. Veterans "deserve an independent investigation, not another political cover-up," the calls said.

An outside organization, the Republican-supporting Crossroads GPS, skipped the hand-wringing. It simply sought to lay at least partial responsibility for the poor treatment of veterans at the feet of Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska.

"A national disgrace," it says. "Veterans died waiting for care that never came. Sen. Mark Begich sits on the Veterans' Affairs Committee."

The Alaskan was among a dwindling number of Senate Democrats in tough races this year to refrain from calling on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down.

A wounded veteran himself, Shinseki resigned on Friday after issuing a public apology to a veterans' group for his agency's performance. He had seemed to be serving on borrowed time since allegations surfaced that as many as 40 former members of the service may have died while awaiting care at the agency's facilities in Phoenix.

The criticism intensified Wednesday after agency investigators issued a searing interim report that said 1,700 former members of the service seeking hard-to-get appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital never had been placed on the official waiting list and were at risk of being forgotten.

For a time on Wednesday and Thursday, the list of Democrats seeking Shinseki's surrender seemed to grow hourly, despite a series of phone calls from the embattled Cabinet officer to key lawmakers. White House support for the former Army general seemed to be fading, and spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama was awaiting a full investigation into the agency's troubles before deciding who should be held accountable.

So far, the political moves have been low-budget, mass telephone calls, web-based attacks and television commercials that will air relatively infrequently.

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