WASHINGTON- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the growing scandal surrounding delayed medical care for sick veterans leading to deaths at VA hospitals "makes me sick to my stomach".
However, the Hagel does not echo the calls of many to have Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki step down.
"I know systems are imperfect. I mean i get that, But when you've got what we do know-and you're right, we do need to get the facts. Let's see exactly what happened, why it happened, how it happened. Then we've got to fix it. Then we have to fix it.", Hagel told CNN on Sunday.
The department's inspector general says 26 VA facilities are under investigation, including the Phoenix VA hospital, where a former clinic director says as many as 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment. The VA Hospital in Hampton is one of the facilities being looked into.
Officials also are investigating claims that VA employees have falsified appointment records to cover up delays in care. An initial review of 17 people who died while awaiting appointments in Phoenix found that none of their deaths appeared to have been caused by delays in treatment.
The allegations have raised fresh concerns about the administration's management of a department that has been struggling to keep up with the influx of veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Vietnam veterans needing more care as they age.