Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki met with President Obama this morning and offered his resignation. In a press conference after the meeting Obama stated that he has accepted the resignation “with regret.” Although just a few days ago Obama had expressed his full confidence in Shinseki’s ability to continue on in the position of Secretary, he explained in the press conference that it was Shinseki’s judgment about what was best for Veterans that ultimately caused him to accept his resignation. He went on to say that Shinseki was not just a “good soldier” but that he is a good person who has done “exemplary work.”
Earlier in the day, Shinseki spoke to The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in Washington. During his speech he not only condemned the “lack of integrity” at some VA hospitals, he also let it be known that the scandal involving secret waiting lists that denied Veterans medical care was not just isolated to the Phoenix area. Consequently, there are facilities across the country that are now under scrutiny for similar abuses against Veterans – a demographic that holds a special place in the hearts of all Americans. Based upon the news that more VA hospitals may have been using similar waiting list tactics and falsified records to artificially enhance their treatment time ‘success” rate, the number of Veterans who have already been identified as having died while waiting for their care is likely to rise.
Shinseki, a retired Army general also apologized for the “corrupt practices” that have been uncovered and indicated that he would use his authority to hold accountable those who had perpetuated the abuses against Veterans. According to Shinseki, no performance awards will be given to any executives at the Veterans Health Administration and scheduling performance will no longer be used as a measure upon which to award bonuses.
During the press conference, Obama indicated his distress that Shinseki had to resign under such circumstances and stated that he has full confidence in the interim Secretary, Sloan Gibson. On the heels of that statement, he emphatically said that the number one priority is that the problems “get fixed.” According to Obama, Shinseki was very disappointed that “bad news did not get to him” and that there was not a structure in place to identify problems.
When asked by a reporter about how much personal responsibility he bears for the VA scandal, Obama said, “It is my administration and I always take responsibility for whatever happens.” He went on to state that the abuses in the VA predate his presidency and that while he was in Congress he heard “firsthand that veterans were not getting the services they needed.” He reminded the press that as president he has pledged to “fix” the issues in the VA.
On the current scandal, Obama said there is a need “to go systematically after problems we were not aware of and fix them” a message that seemed to be a consistent theme in his response to questions from the media. He also stated that since he has been president there has been “increased funding for VA services in an unprecedented fashion” and that he has made Veterans a priority, which has been reflected in his budget. Obama claimed that for every Veterans problem that his administration has been aware of, they have gone in and “fixed it,” and have made significant progress. He also reiterated that neither he nor Secretary Shinseki were aware of the scheduling abuses and that systems must be put in place that “let us become aware of these problems.”
One reporter asked Obama if there was any “scapegoating” taking place or political reasons why Shinseki was resigning. Obama stated that at this point in time he wants somebody at the VA who is not spending time outside of the VA solving external problems. He does not want a Veterans Secretary who is “focused on how are they getting second guessed and speculation about their future.” According to Obama, his decisions regarding Shinseki were based on how he can best “deliver service to the American people” and “deliver to our veterans” and that he believes that Shinseki, who has now resigned over the VA scandal, has the same priority.
By Alana Marie Burke