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POLITICS: PennAve

Steny Hoyer: Republicans are politicizing the Veterans Affairs scandal

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The House's No. 2 Democrat accused Republicans of exploiting the scandal that has enveloped the Veterans Affairs Department for political gain and said he is worried that civil servants could be swept up unfairly in a witch hunt.

"I don't think there's any doubt about it … that is essentially the tactic that Republicans are trying to employ," Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters Wednesday.

"In some cases there are huge fishing expeditions which are going on for millions of documents that goes beyond the realm of oversight and politicizes the issue very greatly."

The Republican National Committee on Wednesday started a Twitter and robocall campaign to demand action on the VA scandal, blaming President Obama and compliant Democrats for ignoring warning signs that led to the mistreatment of veterans across the nation.

The VA inspector general's office has reported that 26 VA facilities are being investigated nationwide, including a Phoenix hospital where 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for treatment as staff there kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide delays in care.

Hoyer said that while any wrong-doers within the VA must be held accountable, it's imperative that accused employees be given due process and that innocent federal workers aren't needlessly punished as a knee-jerk reaction.

"I don't think that serving veterans is antithetical to making sure that employees of the federal government have the civil service protections that were adopted as long ago as the Pendleton [Civil Service Reform] Act in the 19th Century," said Hoyer, whose district includes a large number of federal workers.

"Our civil service system is designed not to be a system where people serve at the will of those who win elections. It's a professional civil service [that is] protected."

Still, the Maryland Democrat called the alleged mistreatment of veterans "outrageous" and vowed to hold those accountable.

"Congress could, I think, take some constructive action and oversight to ensure that in fact not only the VA system but the government generally operates in an efficient and effective manner, and that its employees are accountable and responsible," he said.

"We need to address this decisively, quickly and hold accountable the people who did that, but, much more importantly … correct the system."

Hoyer said he spoke last week with embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to urge him to respond the scandal "very vigorously, to express his anger and disappointment, and resolve to get to the bottom of this."

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Sean Lengell

Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner