Tensions ran high when Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald was grilled about mismanagement within the VA system during a House hearing Wednesday – a major veterans group is demanding an apology.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a 22-year Marine Corps veteran, who saw combat in Iraq in the 1990s then returned to the country on active service in 2006, was questioning McDonald about Denver’s failed VA hospital construction project and accusing him of glossing over problems within the system when things got testy.
After citing cost overrun and scheduling problems with a VA hospital construction in Denver, Coffman said it was a symbol of the VA’s mismanagement.
“This is a department mired in bureaucratic incompetence and corruption,” he said.
Not liking the hot-seat, McDonald made an attempt at shifting the blame.
“You’ve been here longer than I have,” McDonald said. “If there’s a problem in Denver, I think you own it more than I do.”
Coffman, the only member of Congress to have served in both Iraq wars, wasn’t outwardly fazed by the personal jab.
Instead, he pressed for accountability over the construction project that’s been burdened with substantial time and budget miscalculations, and suggested that the VA get out of the construction businesses.
That’s when McDonald – a West Point graduate and former Army captain – got really defensive.
“I’ve run a large company, sir,” he said. “What have you done?”
Coffman didn’t respond to the insulting question at the hearing, but his spokesman, Tyler Sandberg, issued a statement afterward:
“The secretary may think that making personal attacks against Rep. Coffman makes for good sound bites on TV but it’s a diversion from what should be his core task: changing the culture within the VA,” Sandberg said.
Concerned Veterans for America wants more than that.