Jolly blasts Obama on VA crisis — calls his response "one of the greatest failures" of his administration

President Obama finally addressed the growing crisis within the Veterans Affairs today, saying he has ordered his top deputies to complete their review of the long wait times and alleged false record-keeping at VA medical centers in several states, including Florida. But he is not firing V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki — at least not yet. 

"If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period," the President said in his first public comments in weeks on the issue.

The number of VA facilities under investigation has now expanded to 26. Last week, the inspector general told a Senate committee that 10 facilities were being investigated.

The heat is starting to come down on the president, and no one has been more outspoken than recently elected Pinellas County GOP Congressman David Jolly, who campaigned in part by boasting about how he would take care of veterans. He blasted Obama today, saying it was shocking how little he has done about the issue.

"The President announced absolutely nothing — no institutional changes, no administrative changes, no personnel changes, no type of independent investigation. He basically said 'I'll let my own administration that got us into this trying to figure how to get us out of it,'" he told CL from his D.C. office this afternoon. Jolly says that he was expecting to hear some administrative changes to allow veterans to go outside the VA system to get timely care, but "there was absolutely nothing in the president's comments today, and I think it reflects a complete failure of leadership on this issue."

The VA has acknowledged 23 deaths nationwide due to excessive waits by veterans for care, and the VA inspector general launched an independent investigation of the problems at the facility in Phoenix.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican whip, said in a statement. “If the president truly did not know about these scandals and mistakes, we should doubt his ability to properly manage the leviathan government that he helped create.”

Jolly was just as tough.

"It goes to the arrogance with which he flaunts any type of oversight," he said.

Also today, Tampa area Democratic Representative Kathy Castor sent a letter to Secretary Shinseki regarding a recent site visit by the VA's Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations at the St. Petersburg VA Regional Office. 

"The visit identified official military personnel files (OMPFs) and service treatment records (STRs) that were shifted around in a way that impeded or delayed decisions on veterans' disability claims — this is inexcusable," Castor writes. "It should not have taken an interim audit to resolve these two issues."

This afternoon the House was scheduled to vote on a bill sponsored by Florida Republican Jeff Miller that would make it easier for the secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire or demote senior executives. Jolly said the fact that Congress has to attempt to pass such legislation is indicative of the systemic issues that have been with the VA for years, preceding Obama's election in 2008.

During his speech this morning, Obama talked about how he campaigned on trying to fix the VA back in '08. Jolly called those remarks "fairly audacious," because the president had done nothing to improve the delivery of healthcare at the VA. And he said that it will definitely be an issue come November.

"Because it will represent one of the greatest failures of this administration, and the fact that he doesn't realize that ... should be concerning to every American."

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