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President Obama delivers a statement after meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki at the White House in Washington, DC, May 21, 2014. Veterans have had to wait months to see a doctor at some hospitals, and allegations have arisen that administrators at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, covered up the delays there. As many as 40 patients were reported to have died while waiting to be seen by a VA doctor. / JIM WATSON AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- With the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal, the GOP now has a crisis to dig into that has some substance.

Heading toward the November midterm elections, Republicans have made clear that they plan to take aim at Democrats by striking at President Obama over his administration's handling of 2012 attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, and by continuing their assault on the president's signature health care law.

Within the Republican ranks, there is wariness about making Benghazi a centerpiece issue. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who is set to retire, reportedly warned colleagues after the GOP-controlled House voted earlier this month to investigate the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack that they could be headed down a "rabbit hole."

And after dozens of GOP attempts at repealing Obamacare, polls increasingly show that Americans -- while still not completely sold on the health care overhaul -- are more interested in hearing about fixes than repeal.

Unlike those issues, the growing outrage over revelations that VA officials were keeping secret admissions wait lists at hospital and falsifying data to hide how long veterans were waiting to see doctors is an issue that has the potential to resonate with voters outside the Beltway.

Obama publicly addressed the issue at length Wednesday for the first time since the furor erupted in April with allegations, first reported by The Arizona Republic and CNN, that secret waiting lists had been created at the VA in Phoenix to hide delays in care and that as many as 40 veterans have died while awaiting a doctor.

The president didn't mince words as he expressed his outrage. "When I hear allegations of misconduct -- any misconduct -- whether it's allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it," he said. "Not as Commander-in-Chief, but also not as an American."

He acknowledged that the problem of long wait times at the VA, which have been dogging the agency for much of his presidency, were complicated by a generation of troops returning home after more than a decade of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and aging baby boomers who served during Vietnam. And Obama underscored the need to get it right.

The president promised to hold those responsible accountable, which perhaps made his praise for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the man ultimately in charge, awkward. After Obama praised the former Army general for pouring his "heart and soul" into the VA, one of his fellow Democrats, Rep. John Barrow of Georgia, suggested it wasn't enough. Fellow Georgia Democrat Rep. David Scott followed with a floor speech in which he called for Obama to fire Shinseki and expressed dismay that president was showing "no urgency."

"Unfortunately, this administration has fallen short in providing the kind of care that our veterans have earned," Barrow, a perennial vulnerable Democrat, said in a statement. "While I don't think a change in leadership will immediately solve the serious problems that plague the VA, I do think it's time to give someone else an opportunity to lead the agency and begin the rebuilding process to ensure these issues never happen again."

Obama's call for patience while Shinseki and White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors conduct a review of VA policies was also met with scorn by Republicans.

"I couldn't have been more disappointed with President Obama's remarks. VA is in the middle of the biggest health care scandal in its history," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. "Immediate action is required, but the president is urging patience. "

Going back to his first run for the White House, Obama promised to make veterans' health care a top priority for his presidency. He has spoken in past about the "moral obligation" that the country has on the issue. And on Wednesday, Obama eloquently offered that the "most searing moments" of his presidency have been his visits with troops that have "left part of themselves on the battlefield."

The problem Obama -- and by extension his fellow Democrats -- now face is getting their actions on this issue to match the rhetoric.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: First Take: For GOP, VA scandal a crisis with substance

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