House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the Department of Veterans Affairs over reports of widespread mismanagement at its hospitals, but stopped short of demanding that embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resign.
"Some of the allegations could be criminal," the California Democrat told reporters Thursday. "This dishonesty and delay in meeting the needs of veterans must be investigated as necessary and appropriate by the Justice Department."
Pelosi's request comes a day after the VA inspector general released a report saying the Phoenix VA medical center falsified statistics that concealed an average wait time for medical care of 115 days. Pelosi suggested VA officials were motivated by bonuses if their records showed they shortened wait times.
"That was dishonest, perhaps illegal," Pelosi said. "We have to intensify [the VA probe], … we have to look at every aspect of this, be it VA, the oversight of Congress and the rest of it, to say how can we do this better, because lives are at stake."
Many top congressional Republicans, as well as a growing list of Democrats, have called on Shinseki to step down. But Pelosi said it's wrong to consider such action until the inspector general has released its final report on the scandal.
"Is the issue served by saying: OK, those [Shinseki subordinates] did that, they kept the information from the secretary and from the Congress — now let's reward them by removing the secretary?" she said.
"I really do think we have to be careful about thinking that just because you remove the top person means that you've changed the systemic problem that exists in the organization 10 years before Shinseki, or five years at least before Shinseki became the secretary."
Pelosi, who said she has a "great deal of respect" for the retired four-star general, called for "evidence-based decision-making" — not knee-jerk reactions — in dealing with the scandal.
"It's easy to call for somebody at the top to go," she said. "Is it a solution, is it an answer, remains to be seen."