DUBLIN -- U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, on a statewide tour of veterans hospitals, vowed Thursday that those responsible for the scandal involving the deaths of veterans will he held accountable.
Isakson, a Georgia Republican, made the comments during a town hall meeting attended by about 30 people, who appeared mostly to be Republican-friendly.
Although veterans issues were supposed to be the focus of the meeting, it touched on many topics, ranging from the situation in Iraq to immigration reform.
But one person, who declined to give his name, asked the senator whether those responsible for the Department of Veterans Affairs deaths would be punished, and Isakson had plenty to say about that. Veterans allegedly died while on secret waiting lists that were made to distort wait-time statistics and earn bonuses for managers.
Isakson had just come from a visit to the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, and he said there are many hard-working, dedicated people among the 340,000 employees in the VA system. A major cause of the scandal was too much protection for bad employees, he said.
“There were definitely people within the VA, and we know who they are, who took advantage of the lack of enforcement and the lack of discipline,” he said. “They cooked the books on their numbers to get raises while veterans were getting sick and dying.”
He said the VA reform act passed by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives gives the new VA chief the power to fire any senior manager if he sees fit. He said the previous chief didn’t have that authority.
“For the first time in the history of the veterans administration, the guy running it has the authority to fire and the ability to fire,” Isakson said. “And if he doesn’t do it, we are going to fire him.”
One questioner expressed concern that so-called establishment Republicans and those in the tea party faction are spending more time fighting each other than fighting Democrats. Isakson said he has been involved in Republican politics since 1974, and there have always been varying factions fighting each other.
“The Democratic Party found a way to get under the big tent and fight us off while we were fighting among ourselves,” he said.
One exception, he said, was in the 1980 presidential election when Ronald Reagan, the staunch conservative, picked George H.W. Bush, a moderate, to be his running mate after the two battled each other in the primary.
“That kind of bonded everybody who had been fighting each other,” he said. “Reagan operated under the 80-20 rule. If you can find 80 percent among which you agree, why lose everything over the 20 percent you don’t? Live to fight another day. That’s one thing I’ve always espoused.”
He said if Republicans want to make gains in November, they are going to have to follow the 1980 model and put their differences aside.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.