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President Speaks Veterans Affairs Health Care Issue; Interview with Congressman Jeff Miller; U.S. Sending Troops to Help in Search for Kidnapped Nigerian Girls; Woman Held Captive For a Decade Now Free; Elizabeth Smart Talks Hostage Mentality; Disturbing New Allegations Against Phoenix VA

Aired May 22, 2014 - 07:00   ET


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And the American Legion called the decision not to fire VA Secretary Eric Shinseki unfortunate. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Michelle, thank you very much for that update.

Let's discuss more with Congressman Jeff Miller, Republican chairman of the House committee on Veterans Affairs, someone who has been focusing clearly very much on this issue. Mr. Chairman, it's great to see you. Thank you so much.


BOLDUAN: Of course. So after the president's remarks yesterday you said this, that you couldn't be more disappointed with what you heard. Why?

MILLER: Well, I heard nothing. I mean, three weeks after this actually became public in the media the president finally comes out and physically says that he's angry. What he should have done was come out and said I'm doing something immediately in the midst of this emergency crisis and be able to give veterans who need health care now the option of going outside of the system getting that health care. He didn't do that.

BOLDUAN: How would that, for someone who doesn't understand the VA, the massive VA system, how would that change the problem immediately?

MILLER: Well, the VA already has the opportunity to send veterans out on fee basis or into the private market, but they have to go through several steps in order to do that. Number one, the VA has to not be able to handle it, then a DOD facility close by must not have the ability to handle it, and then also if they have contracts with a teaching hospital or something like that, if they can't handle the veteran, then they can send them out into the private sector. What the president should say is, look, we have veterans waiting in line to get care. They need to be able to get it right now, and the way he could have done that was with his pen and given an executive order.

BOLDUAN: Have you gotten any reason why he did not do that yesterday?

MILLER: No, because I think they're trying to keep a broken system on the same path that it already is. I would very much like to see somebody say what we've got today is not serving the veterans who have earned the benefit of the health care that they are supposed to get. They are trying to gloss over the fact that by their own admission there have been 23 veterans in recent years that have died because of preventable deaths.

BOLDUAN: He did say that it was absolutely unacceptable, that people will be held accountable, he is waiting for the review to come in. First, the review from Shinseki, that will be next week, then the larger review from one of his top advisers, Rob Nabors, that will be coming next month. You in the House, you took action yesterday in the house. You passed a Bill to give the secretary of the VA more power to fire some of the top brass at the department. I want to get from you why that is important because to this point I have not heard the suggestion from the VA or from Shinseki that his inability to fire people is one of the reasons behind the scandal.

MILLER: Well, the interesting thing is they have not held anybody accountable for deaths that occurred in South Carolina and in Georgia. I was there in January right after that visit. I wrote him a letter. I also wrote Secretary Shinseki, and I said, please tell us what you've done to hold the people responsible for creating these waiting lists that cause the deaths of veterans. To this day I have not gotten any response from the department of Veterans Affairs.

BOLDUAN: How does this bill and this about that you give the VA secretary, how would that change where we are today?

MILLER: Well, he wouldn't have the argument should he choose to use it that he has this bureaucratic red tape that he needs to go through. If somebody causes a death or if somebody out there doesn't do the right thing for criminal reasons, which we already see out there today, he has the ability to fire them at will, much like a member of Congress already has.

BOLDUAN: So also happening on the Hill today is you called three VA officials to the Hill. What are you expecting to get from them, especially within the context, Mr. Chairman, that the president himself said he wants to see what comes from these two -- this first review and the broader review that's due next month before they really take any action?

MILLER: Congress has a constitutional oversight of doing the things that we are supposed to do as it relates to the expenditure of the funds that we allocate to the different departments. I asked three people that are at the center of this crisis to come to us on the Hill. Late yesterday evening I got a denial that basically said we didn't give them enough time to be able to get here, which I think is pretty disingenuous because one of the very people that we asked to come up here called a few weeks ago and started this firestorm by asking for a briefing which was put together within a couple of hours. So we're going to hold a business meeting this morning. We will talk about the next step. My intent is to go ahead and subpoena them for appearance before the Congress for testimony on the 30th.

BOLDUAN: Why do you think that they have so far refused to come? What are they afraid of, do you think?

MILLER: I don't know. That's for you to ask. We have asked and asked, why are you afraid to bring the facts out? We issued a subpoena two weeks ago, mind you, asking for details in a very specific three-week period from very specific individuals. They called and told us, well, we'll present that information to you when we think it's appropriate. We've gotten 201 e-mails. It took 30 people nine days to produce those. Last night at 2:30 in the morning we got the second grouping of e-mails, all from lower level VA employees, not even from the higher level folks who made the decisions.

BOLDUAN: It kind of points to the problem with the red tape that we were talking about at the beginning of this interview. I want to get your final take. CNN has been out front on this but you have as well on your committee in trying to draw attention to problems within the VA medical system, problems with scheduling. There's a letter that many people have been talking about from one year ago when you were trying to raise issues. We now hear from Drew Griffin who has been out in front on this that wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, they have been made, some of them, according to a doctor who is speaking to Drew, they've been made to wait some six to 10 months to get care when they are supposed to be priority. It makes me wonder, and since you know more about this than most, do you think there are more troubling allegations that are yet to come out or do you think the worse of it has finally being exposed?

MILLER: This is just the tip of the iceberg. I know there's more to come. We've received some information and some tips that will make what has already come out look like kindergarten stuff.

BOLDUAN: Can you give me any example? Can you give me anything more?

MILLER: No, no, because, you know, we're giving the information we get to the office inspector general so they can do their independent assessment.

But let me tell you this. The secretary likes to point to the fact that he's doing this broad review of the VA health care and point system. It's not a broad review. It's an internal review. They're going in and asking people at the appointment desk, do you keep waiting lists? If they say no, basically, then they say, OK, check, you're not a problem. They're not even checking all of the clinics. There are 1,700 touch points for VA whereby they see veterans. They're not checking with every single one of them. So it's not an exhaustive and complete review.

BOLDUAN: I really hear the anger, frustration, and disgust in your voice, which also surprises me, final question, Mr. Chairman, that you are not calling for Eric Shinseki to resign quite yet. Why not? You have talked about this -- you have talked about this. But I also want to get, where is your tipping point, I want to know? MILLER: Well, here again, I mean, asking for the secretary's resignation is putting a Band-Aid on a wound. We don't need to just put a Band-Aid on this. We need to have a surgical procedure that fixes this so that it serves the very people who have earned the benefit by wearing the uniform of this nation.

BOLDUAN: And that is the harder prescription. That is the harder fix, is fixing that massive system. But something the Congress needs to be involved with, and you are trying to do. Congressman, appreciate the time. Thank you very much. We'll stay in touch.

MILLER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Of course.


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Kate, thanks so much. Let's give you a look at your headlines.

Breaking just moments ago, North Korea has fired two artillery shells near a patrol boat along the disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea. South Korean media says they landed near Yeonpyeong island, and residents there have been ordered to take shelter. The south responded by firing five shells. This all comes a day after the South Korean navy fired warning shots as three northern boats crossed the border.

They've dismissed a Republican-led Benghazi investigation as politically motivated, however Democrats are now on board, they say, to defend the truth. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appointing five Democrats to the special Congressional committee looking into the attack on the U.S. missions in Benghazi in 2012. Four Americans were killed. The committee will meet for the first time today in a planning session.

Also today, the house is expected to pass a bill that would end the NSA's bulk collection of phone records. However, the White House is under fire for making changes to the measure. Under the plan phone companies would keep the records, not the NSA. The spy agency would need court approval to see them. But the measure now allows wider searches and liberty groups are calling the revisions made by the White House overly broad.

More wicked weather expected for Denver. A day after a freak storm pelted the city, we're told there was hail the size of baseballs, kind of insulting in May, kind of insulting any time, Indra. Let's look at the forecast in Denver and areas around the country.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It was an incredible afternoon yesterday. Just look at all the reports of hail, some as large as baseballs, like you said, and even storm reports of tornadoes that pounded the Denver area yesterday. But here's the thing. They weren't the only ones. That severe weather spread as far as the northeast.


PETERSONS: Wild weather across the nation, heavy hailstorm sending motorists and livestock in the Midwest. Meanwhile out east, massive flooding. Golf ball size hail fell in Colorado, turning parts of the state into a winter wonderland. Just check out this Denver stadium completely blanketed in ice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The plows really slow down and they were struggling to push the ice and the hail off the field.

PETERSONS: The hail proved damaging to others. After the storm passed residents in one Denver suburb found their homes looking more like Swiss cheese.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the siding in the back is destroyed. And the wind, you know, you just get destroying everything in the back.

PETERSONS: Meanwhile, in the east, flood waters trap people in their cars in Ohio and in Pennsylvania, their homes. Authorities in Elk County told CNN affiliate WJAC that at least a third of the town's population had to be evacuated from the severe flooding.


PETERSONS: Just look at all the areas impacted by severe weather today. We're talking about major cities, New York City, Philly, D.C., Nashville, Chattanooga, and still third day in a row, Denver could be looking a delays in the airports there, and even in midland Texas. Just take a look at what it looks like already right now. Check out all the lightning. And keep in mind so many people are trying to get to the airport to get ahead of Memorial Day. Unfortunately looks like a lot of delays in the air today, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Boy, I tell you, woke me up this morning, the thunder and lightning. It was really going on. That's for sure.

I want to tell you about the latest in the search of hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria. The search is getting a boost from the American troops. President Obama has ordered 80 troops to Chad, neighboring country. The White House says they'll support intelligence and surveillance missions and will stay until, quote, "they're no longer required." This comes after 10 days of air searches for the kidnapped schoolgirls and they have all turned up empty. For the latest, let's get to CNN's Vladimir Duthiers in Nigeria this morning. What do we know?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Chris, Well, these 80 troops are going to help the Nigerian troops that are already on the ground. Nigerian President says he has 20,000 soldiers in northeastern Nigeria looking for the girls. But he also admits, Chris, that he has absolutely no idea where they are. U.S. intelligence reports suggests these girls may have been broken up and split and trafficked into neighboring Chad and Niger. This is an area the size of West Virginia. And it's not going to be easy for these Nigerian troops, which is why everybody here is welcoming the help of the United States who is flying surveillance flights, helping with reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. They're going to need it, because as of right now, still no end in sight for the mothers that are waiting for their daughters to come home. Chris, Kate?

CUOMO: Vlad, thank you for the reporting. We'll get back to you.

Coming up on NEW DAY, neighbors thought they were a happy couple, that he was a loving husband and father. It turns out, no, he isn't. He's an alleged kidnapper who held this young woman for 10 years. How did she survive? What happened when she tried to run? How did she finally escape? We're talking with Elizabeth Smart about the case. Stay with us.


CUOMO: Breaking news this morning out of California. A woman allegedly held captive for a decade is waking up free after finding her sister through Facebook and alerting police. She was kidnapped in 2004 at just 15 by her mother's boyfriend, telling authorities he drugged her, abducted her, gave her a false identity and then locked her in a garage. You know what, that's not even the worse of it. He eventually forced her to marry him and have his child. Neighbors thought they were the perfect couple. Of course, that couldn't have been farther from the truth.

Joining us this morning from Salt Lake City is the president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and survivor of child abduction, ms. Elizabeth Smart. Elizabeth, it is great to see you as always.


CUOMO: Now, you are one of the rare ones, not in just that you were able to escape a horrible situation like this, but you have had the strength and the resilience to make this work your life. How difficult is it for someone like this young woman to now move on from this situation?

SMART: Well, not only is she going to be trying to recover and move forward from everything that has just happened to her -- I mean, ten years, a decade, that is so much and so much has happened to her. I mean, that is a lot to move on from. But also now she's going to have the overwhelming media attention and notoriety that comes along with her case. Not to mention trying to find that new normal, trying to find that new way of life of moving forward.

I mean, she's facing a lot right now, and the best thing all of us can do is to give her the support and the prayers and the love that she needs, and give her the time and the space and the privacy that she really needs.

CUOMO: Understood. Help people understand what she's been through. The initial reaction will be -- why did everybody think they were a happy couple? If you're abducted, aren't you supposed to be trying to escape the whole time? What do people miss?

SMART: Well, as a survivor who has been chained up in physical chains and also had the chains of threats held over me, I can tell you firsthand that threat is so much stronger than physical chains. Now, I don't have intimate details on what threats he was holding over her head, but I understand that he was holding her family, that he was threatening her family and, for me, that was the strongest threat anyone could have ever made to me.

I mean, my family is the most important thing in the world to me and I would have done anything to try to protect them. And I am willing to bet that she feels the exact same way about her family. And having been kidnapped, having been drugged, having been hidden in a garage, being raped, being abused, being taken to so many different places -- I mean, she probably had never seen him fail at anything. What was there to say that he wouldn't go out and hurt her family? Or that he wouldn't have, I think, the threat was to have her family deported? I mean, who was to tell her that he wouldn't be able to do that? Because everything pointed to the fact that he could and he would.

So for her, protecting her family, I can totally understand why she wouldn't run. And that's why it's so important for us to not question and say or think, well, you should have run, why didn't you run? Because, by saying that, that's saying, well, it's really your fault you were held captive for however long. And it's really, you know, it's really -- you know, you could have run. It's just -- it's all on you. And that's not how it is at all and that's not what she needs to hear right now.

CUOMO: Understood. And we do know that she did try to run at least once and was badly beaten and obviously that was going to have an impact on her psyche and her thoughts about what she could do.

So help us understand, this person that people met, who seemed happy, who would dance with this man, who seemed like she was in a good relationship, who is that person?

SMART: I can't say for sure because I haven't met with her and I haven't spoken with her. But I do know that putting on that face and putting on that cover and that facade does not reflect how she felt inside and does not say who she is inside. You get to a point where you are under so much stress and so much fear and so much worry of what's happening to you and what's happening to your family and what's going on that you go into survival mode and you do whatever it takes to survive. And it does not matter what. So if that means putting on a happy face and pretending to be happy and pretending, you know, that you're in a healthy relationship, then that's what you do because you survive. And she needs to be applauded for that because she is clearly so, so strong to have come out of this.

CUOMO: Social media played a role in this. Does it give you optimism that, because there's so much social media now, does it give you optimism that others may be able to use it as a way to reach out even though they're afraid of being discovered because of what will happen, as you told us?

SMART: Absolutely. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, I mean all of these different social media areas, they have such huge potential to help rescue people, to help resolve terrible situations. Right now, yes, many children are targeted through these social media outlets. But they can also be turned to have such a positive impact. That's why it's so important, just for everyone, when, you know, they get on to check their Facebook status or when they see something that's important, to share it or to report it, because that's how we get the word out, that's how we're going to bring more children home, that's how we're going to help more missing people. It's just so important to use every avenue possible to us to help make that difference, to help rescue people who have disappeared.

CUOMO: In truth, the need is greater than people think, and that's why the Elizabeth Smart Foundation is not only brave work by you, but very necessary. And people should visit the site and understand what you're doing because we need advocates on this issue. There are too many out there. And when they come home, if they come home, they need just as much help as anybody else.

Elizabeth Smart, it's great to see you. Great to see your passion for this work. Thank you for helping us this morning.

SMART: Thanks so much, Chris.

CUOMO: Kate?

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, the U.S. is sending troops in to help find the hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the terror group Boko Haram. We're going to talk with the Pentagon about their mission and how the search is going.

Also coming up on Inside Politics, Angelina Jolie said she might, just might, consider running for office. Not a joke but we will get Conan O'Brien's take. .


PEREIRA: Good to have you back with us on NEW DAY. It's about half past the hour. Here are your headlines.

Disturbing new allegations against the VA health system in Phoenix. A doctor at the facility telling CNN wounded veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are being forced to wait months for medical treatment, despite a national mandate to give those patients priority care. President Obama, for his part, is promising accountability but he is refusing to fire embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Eight American troops are heading to Chad to help in the search for the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls who were taken by Boko Haram more than five weeks ago. The team will with intelligence and surveillance, including the operation of a Predator drone. The White House says the group will stay in Chad until their help is no longer need.

Happening now, the search is back on for Flight 370. The Bluefin-21 submersible was deployed earlier this morning. Over the next week, it will search the remaining areas within its depth limits where acoustic signals were detected. A Chinese survey ship will also work with Australian officials to map the ocean floor in preparation for a deep ocean search. As you know, Flight 370 vanished more than ten weeks ago.


CUOMO: All right. Time to make a turn to politics. We have Inside Politics here on NEW DAY with Mr. John King. Plenty for you to discuss, handsome.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": We have a lot to discuss this morning, handsome, Mr. Cuomo. Kate, Michalea, good morning to you.

Let's go right Inside Politics because there is a lot going on, including the burgeoning scandal at Department of Veterans Affairs. With me this morning to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace of the Associated Press, Ron Fournier of "The National Journal".

And let's get right to it. We have this blossoming scandal. The president's deputy chief of staff is now in Phoenix going on to other places. They're looking at more than two dozen facilities now that might have had these secret waiting lists. The president met with his Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, and then he came out publicly for the first time and talked about this.

A lot of people are saying the secretary should go. Well, there's stand by your man and then there's this.


OBAMA: He has put his heart and soul in this thing and he's taken it seriously. But I've said to Ric and I said it to him today -- I want to see, you know, what the results of these reports are and there is going to be accountability. I am going to make sure that there is accountability throughout the system after I get the full report.

I know that Ric's attitude is if he does not think he can do a good job on this, and if he thinks he's let our veterans down, then I'm sure that he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve.


KING: Julie, you cover the White House everyday and you're of the view that the secretary is safe. I listen to -- if my boss ever said that about me publicly, I would be gone, out the door in a second. Hi, Jeff. But the -- it sounded to me more like, well, we've got this investigation going on and I'm going to keep this guy around to catch the harpoons for a while, and then he's gone.

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Sure, he's certainly -- the president has certainly left the door open to the possibility that Shinseki could be out. I think he almost had to do that.