By Allison Sherry
With help from Rachel Stassen-Berger
WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar joined a chorus Friday in criticizing the Veterans Administration and pressed the regional office on wait times for medical appointments in Minnesota's clinics and hospitals.
"The incidents that have been reported at VA facilities in Arizona and elsewhere are outrageous and entirely unacceptable," the two wrote in a letter to Janet Murphy, network director for the VA Midwest Health Care Network in Minnesota.
Franken and Klobuchar specifically asked Murphy for the average number of days veterans must wait to receive appointments at every VA facility in Minnesota.
One of Franken's GOP opponents Mike McFadden pinged the senator earlier Friday for keeping quiet on the VA scandal, in which more than two dozen hospitals and clinics face allegations of long wait times and false record-keeping. In Phoenix, there are allegations the missteps caused multiple deaths.
"Criticizing mergers and talking about Internet fast lanes may generate headlines for Sen. Franken, but it does nothing to guarantee that our veterans have access to quality healthcare when they need it," said McFadden, in an e-mailed statement. He also called for Shinseki's resignation. "Minnesota doesn't need any more out-of-touch politicians like Al Franken."
Franken's office said that two weeks ago, in the wake of the news about several alleged incidents at VA medical centers in Arizona and elsewhere, the senator directed his office to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to find more information about the wait times for medical care.
Franken and Klobuchar's letter went out the same day Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation.
Democratic Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz didn't go that far Friday, instead calling for a "national review" of all VA medical facilities. Walz is a veteran and member of the Veteran's Affairs committee.
GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen has not called for resignation. Rep. John Kline scribed an op-ed on VA issues earlier this week in a local paper, which stopped short of calling for a resignation. Rep. Michele Bachmann, on Fox News, called for his resignation.
All week, Minnesota Republican Congressional candidates blasted Democrats on the scandal. On Thursday, Republican 7th Congressional District candidate Torrey Westrom and 8th Congressional District Stewart Mills also called for Shinseki’s resignation. First District Republican Jim Hagedorn’s campaign sent out a release titled, “Obama-Walz have let down veterans."
Hank Sadler, chair of Veterans for Walz, sharply criticized the "partisan" attacks.
"It's despicable that Republicans running for Congress would use veterans' lives in a blatant attempt to score cheap political points. They should be ashamed," he said, in an email.
First District Republican Aaron Miller had also blasted Walz on May 21, with a release titled, "Our veterans deserve better, President Obama and Congressman Walz are failing them."
On May 27, Kline said: "General Shinseki is a decorated Vietnam veteran and I appreciate his service to our country, but the entire leadership of the VA must be held accountable which is why I’m calling on him to resign – and if he doesn’t, the President should relieve him of his duties."
Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan is calling for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation amid a scandal that has embroiled the agency tasked with caring for the nation’s veterans.
Nolan is one of the few congressional Democrats demanding Shinseki’s ouster.
President Obama and most other members of his party have stood by Shinseki as claims mount that dozens of veterans died while waiting months for medical care and that VA employees engaged in a cover-up to conceal the treatment delays.
“These issues did not begin with Secretary Shinseki, but he’s had six years to fix the problems that plague this agency, and it’s highly unlikely that any more time will make a difference,” Nolan said Friday afternoon.
In a statement, Nolan said he wants GOP House Speaker John Boehner to establish a special committee to probe the allegations of mismanagement, fraud and abuse at the agency.
Shinseki has attempted to stay ahead of the scandal, promising a full investigation into allegations that veterans died at an Arizona VA facility while waiting for care. That probe has expanded to include 26 VA facilities.
But action hasn’t come fast enough for Nolan, who’s faced pressure from the national GOP for not speaking out about the scandal until now. Republican Stewart Mills III, who is challenging Nolan in the Eighth Congressional District, called for Shinseki’s firing Thursday.
“He has had ample time to fix the serious issues in the Department and he has either failed to do so or been unaware of the problems. Regardless of which is the case, it’s time for new leadership in the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Mills said.
In his statement Friday, Nolan dismissed the Republican criticism as “disingenuous.”
“I find it somewhat disingenuous that many of the same Republicans who voted down our measure to double the number of personnel necessary to alleviate the backlog in disability claims are now shouting the loudest about the failure to address that same backlog,” Nolan said.
“It’s reminiscent of how they shut down the government and then complained about the national parks being closed.”
Minnesota U.S Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken have introduced a bill to rename the federal Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C., in memory of former U.S Rep. Jim Oberstar.
Oberstar chaired the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during his last two terms in Congress. The Chisholm native was Minnesota’s longest-serving congressman, representing the Eighth Congressional District from 1974 to 2010.
“Representative Oberstar’s fingerprints can be found on just about every major federally funded transportation project during the last five decades – roads, bridges, tunnels, rails, locks and dams, bike paths,” Klobuchar said.
Before serving in Congress, he worked for years on the House Public Works Committee, the Transportation Committee’s precursor, as an aide to former U.S. Rep. John Blatnik.
Illinois U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski has introduced similar legislation in the House. All eight members of Minnesota’s House delegation are co-sponsoring Lipinski’s bill.
“It’s only fitting that the federal building dedicated to the safe and efficient movement of the cars, trucks, bikes, planes, trains, and ships that Jim cared so much about be named in his honor,” Franken said.
Lipinski sponsored an almost identical bill in 2010, just before Oberstar left office. But the legislation stalled in committee.
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Rick Nolan is appalled that of the $100 billion American dollars spent on construction in Afghanistan, more than $60 billion is unaccounted for, according to an Inspector General's report.
The 8th Congressional District DFLer has a proposed amendment, which he got into the National Defense Authorization Act, that will prohibit funding for any new construction projects over $500,000, unless the U.S. government can physically inspect or audit those projects.
Nolan's amendment will get some floor time tonight and his staffers say a vote should come tomorrow.
The National Defense Authorization Act, an annual bill that sets policy and spending for the Pentagon, may get a full House vote as early as tomorrow. Nolan isn't on the Armed Services Committee, but GOP leaders let anyone submit amendments for a bill this big and Nolan's was approved overnight Tuesday by the House Rules Committee.
Staffers say the potential for corruption and fraud is high in Afghanistan and Nolan is disgusted with the abuse of taxpayer money there.
UPDATED TO CLARIFY CRAVAACK SUPPORT
Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Honour is tapping into his personal fortune to competes in the wide open GOP field for the state’s highest-elected office.
Pat Shortridge, a senior adviser for Honour, confirmed that the candidate renewed his commitment to his campaign with an additional loan of $250,000. Shortridge said the new infusion is part of a major fundraising push for the next phase of the campaign.
That comes on top of $50,000 that Honour loaned his campaign in the first quarter of this year.
Honour had the best fundraising quarter of any of the GOP rivals, netting more than $200,000 through March, even outraising DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
Honour is not abiding by the GOP endorsement at the end of the month, so he is pressing on to the August primary.
On Wednesday, former Minnesota U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack renewed his support of Honour. Cravaack endorsed Honour previously.
"He is a business leader, and will take on the tough problems facing our state rather than doing what is politically convenient just to get re-elected," said Cravaack, a Republican who represented Minnesota's 8th Congressional District. "Scott hasn't spent his career in politics, and electing him will send a message to career politicians that it's the end of business as usual, that it is time for new leaders and a new direction for our state."
Honour and Cravaack have spent the week traveling together, stopping in Virginia, Duluth, Hinkley and elsewhere.
"I am grateful and honored to have the support of Chip Cravaack," Honour said. "With his help I'll continue building a strong coalition of leaders and supporters that will be successful in defeating Mark Dayton in November."
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