WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tim Walz was among six Democrats and eight Republicans tapped Wednesday on the House side to work out differences between passed House and Senate legislation to reform the Veterans Administration.
Walz, who served 24 years in the Army National Guard, is a member of the House Veterans Committee.
In a statement, Walz said, "My number one goal as a veteran myself and a member of this conference committee is to ensure our veterans and their families are able to get the care they need, and in a timely manner."
The differences between the House and Senate versions of the reform legislation are not great, staffers say, but both chambers are eager to get VA reform passed and sent to the president promptly.
The leadership PAC of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who lost to a Tea Party challenger on Tuesday in a stunning Republican primary upset, has donated $169,500 to Minnesota candidates over the past decade, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Leadership political action committees take in money and donate it to like-minded campaigns.
During that time period, Cantor’s Every Republican is Crucial PAC has donated $40,000 to Rep. Erik Paulsen, $35,000 to Rep. Michele Bachmann and $34,500 to Rep. John Kline.
Cantor’s PAC has also donated to former congressmen Jim Ramstad, Gil Gutknecht and Mark Kennedy, who Cantor also supported during his failed 2006 U.S. Senate run against Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Former Sen. Norm Coleman’s 2008 campaign against Sen. Al Franken received a $5,000 boost from Cantor.
In 2010, he backed Randy Demmers’s campaign against Rep. Tim Walz in the First Congressional District with a $5,000 donation.
In 2012, he donated $10,000 to former Eight District U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack who lost to current congressmen Rick Nolan. This cycle, he’s donated $10,000 to Nolan’s challenger, Stewart Mills III.
Cantor has also donated $5,000 to state Sen. Torrey Westrom’s campaign in the Seventh Congressional District, marking the first time he's put money behind a candidate vying to unseat Rep. Collin Peterson.
Cantor has also been an ally to Minnesota’s Republicans in his role as Majority Leader.
This year, he’s helped Paulsen shepherd anti-sex trafficking legislation through the House.
A charter school advocate, Cantor has backed Kline’s efforts to enact school choice legislation and rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act.
Cantor and Kline also are among a select group of Republicans tasked with developing a viable GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care law.
WASHINGTON -- Minnesota's eight House members and both senators collectively urged the Army Tuesday to clarify a new directive expanding legal services to victims of sexual assault in the National Guard.
The Army recently released new rules expanding important legal services to certain victims of military sexual assault, but the rules don't cover National Guard members who become victims of sexual assault outside drill weekends or military duties.
Minnesota's ten members of Congress say the directive will undermine the Minnesota National Guard's ability to "effectively provide support services to survivors of sexual assaults," according to a release.
The letter was led by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and GOP Rep. John Kline and co-signed by Democrat Sen. Al Franken and Reps. Collin Peterson, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Tim Walz and Rick Nolan, and Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann and Erik Paulsen.
"Our Minnesota service members should not be impeded from seeking critical services in the aftermath of a sexual assault," the letter said. "The Army must provide clear guidance and direction in order for the National Guard to effectively provide these services authorized by Congress."
The letter comes as the Department of Defense scrambles to deal with the increasing problem of sexual assaults in the military. According to the delegation release today, the DoD found in May that overall reporting of sexual assaults in the military in 2013 was 50 percent higher than it was the previous year -- 5,061 in 2013 versus 3,374 in 2012. Previous year-to-year increases in reporting never exceeded five percent.
There are more than 13,000 soldiers and airman in the Minnesota National Guard.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Reps. Tim Walz and Collin Peterson are among a growing number of Democratic lawmakers calling for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign after an inspector general’s report that found “systemic” problems at VA medical facilities.
The interim investigative report released Wednesday found at least 1,700 veterans waiting for health care at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs medical facility were not included on the facility’s wait list, and patients there waited an average of 115 days for their first appointments.
The report also documents schemes used at VA facilities intended to conceal wait times and concluded that the problems are national in scope.
Less than a week ago, Walz said he would reserve judgment until the report was complete and that Shinseki, the longest-serving VA secretary in history, deserved the “benefit of the doubt.”
The troubling findings apparently removed all doubt.
“Secretary Shinseki is one of the most honorable and loyal men I have ever met,” Walz, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “It’s a shame that he and other veterans were let down by certain people working under him at the VA, but ultimately the buck stops with the Secretary. That is why today, I believe it would be best if Secretary Shinseki stepped down.”
With Franken, Walz and Peterson calling for Shinseki’s removal, more than half of the state’s 10-member congressional delegation is publicly calling for Shinseki’s ouster.
Senate Democrats plan to address accountability at the VA next week when they return to Washington, but Franken and other Senate Democrats are already calling for new leadership in the wake of the inspector general’s findings.
“The Inspector General’s report is so troubling that I have come to the conclusion that the Department of Veterans Affairs needs new leadership. I believe it would be in the best interest of veterans for Secretary Shinseki to step down,” Franken said in a statement.
“The VA needs to be delivering quality care to our veterans on a timely basis. Clearly there is a systemic problem that this leadership has not been addressing.”
In a statement released today, Shinseki said the findings were “reprehensible to me, to this Department and to Veterans.”
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough briefed President Obama on the report, but he has yet to take action.
“There needs to be accountability and new leadership and the best step forward is for the Secretary to offer his resignation so we can start fixing the problems where they exist,” Peterson said in a statement. “We have to do better by our veterans.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan called for Shinseki’s resignation last week. Among the Republicans in the Minnesota delegation U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann and John Kline also want him out.
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."