American Legion: 'We Need the White House, the President to Come Forward'

By Susan Jones | May 19, 2014 | 6:43 AM EDT

American Legion Commander Daniel Dellinger (From CBS 'Face the Nation')

( - "We realize that the administration has done a lot for the veterans, but that isn't the issue," American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger
told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Dellinger said the long wait for veterans to get medical care is an "ongoing problem" that President Obama must address personally:

"We need the White House, the president to come forward. He needs to make a statement, to show the employees of VA that this needs to change, now. One death is tragic, but when you hide it, that's unforgivable."

It's been three weeks since CNN reported that at least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret list to hide the long waiting times. And over the weekend, the Dayton Daily News reported that the government has paid out more than $34 million to numerous veterans who claimed delays in treatment.

President Obama has not talked about the scandal, but he did send one of his top advisers to speak for him:

“The president is madder than hell, and I’ve got the scars to prove it, given the briefings I’ve given the president,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told CBS News White House Correspondent Major Garrett. The interview aired Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

“Nobody is more outraged about this problem, right now, Major, than the president of the United States,” McDonough added.

Dellinger said the recent news reports about long waiting times and veterans' deaths point to "egregious mismanagement" of the VA. He said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki should display the same leadership at the VA that he showed in the military. "And it just hasn't happened. The accountability has not been there," Dellinger said.

Dellinger said "cultural change is necessary" at the VA, and he specifically complained about VA employees getting bonuses "just for doing their job."

He has called for Shinseki's resignation, citing "poor oversight and failed leadership."

President Obama, in his weekly radio address on Saturday, talked about going around Congress to get things done, but he said nothing about veterans.

Speaking for Republicans, however, Sen. John McCain in his Saturday radio address urged Congress to give VA administrators "greater flexibility to hire and fire those charge with caring for our veterans." McCain also said veterans "have earned the right to choose where and when they get their medical care."

McCain said the way the nation cares for veterans "is the most  important test of a nation's character. The U.S. is currently "failing that test," he added. "We must do better tomorrow -- much better."