May 9, 2014 6:36 PM
PHOENIX (AP) - Several veterans voiced their anger and frustration to Sen. John McCain on Friday over what they call a broken Veterans Affairs system as the Republican said that reported lapses in care in Phoenix are part of a nationwide problem that needs to be fixed.
"Friends, this is not a unique situation as far as Arizona is concerned," said McCain. "I emphasize everyone is innocent until proven guilty but this appears to be a problem of nationwide implications."
The VA has been under fire in recent weeks, ever since critics contended that administrators in Phoenix kept an off-the-books list to conceal long wait times as 40 veterans died waiting to get an appointment. Similar problems have since been reported in other states.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said this week he has ordered an audit of access to care at all VA medical centers.
The McCain event came as the Veterans of Foreign Wars announced that it has established a hot line to field calls about care at VA facilities around the country. The organization has taken a less forceful tone than the American Legion, which this week demanded a major shakeup of VA ranks, including calling for Shinseki's ouster.
"We just want to hear it ourselves and not through a filter" of media coverage, said Joe Davis, director of public affairs for the VFW. "We want to hear it from the veterans directly."
He added: "There is nothing out there except allegations and conjecture until we have the IG report in hand."
While several officials have called for Shinseki to resign, McCain did not.
"I would like to see Secretary Shinseki in his capacity appearing before Congress and the American people saying what went on," said McCain, a veteran himself who served in Vietnam.
The chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee has similar questions, and he announced a hearing next week on care across the VA. Shinseki will appear before the committee.
McCain said veterans should be allowed to pick other health care providers outside the VA, but says the system is still relevant.
Associated Press Writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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