By Ben Wolfgang and S.A. Miller-The Washington Times
With criticism and anger mounting on both sides of the aisle, the White House on Tuesday struggled to explain exactly when President Obama learned of lengthy wait times and false reporting at Veterans Affairs health care facilities but defended its larger effort to improve care for the nation’s veterans.
A day after claiming the president learned from TV news reports of accusations that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for treatment at a Phoenix VA hospital, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the burgeoning scandal is “not a new issue” to Mr. Obama.
“The president, as we all know, has been talking about the issues and challenges facing VA since he was a candidate. And it was precisely those problems that had been identified and discussed in 2006, 2007 and 2008 that he spoke about as a candidate and that led him to commit to increased resources,” Mr. Carney told reporters. “So no, this is not a new issue to the president. That’s why he has been focused on it since he’s been president.”
That defense has only raised new questions about why, if the administration knew of potentially life-threatening wait times at VA facilities and efforts by VA employees to conceal the real numbers, something wasn’t done years ago — long before CNN revealed the specific Phoenix accusations.
On Monday, after The Washington Times reported that Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. learned even before taking office in 2008 of problems at VA facilities, Mr. Carney defended the administration’s approach, saying the president consistently asked Congress for more money for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Now, in light of the accusations, the White House has dispatched Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to Phoenix to assist embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki in a full investigation.