President Obama announced Friday morning that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will step down in the wake of a waitlist scandal that has engulfed his department and led more than 100 members of Congress to seek his resignation.
"Ric's commitment to our veterans is unquestioned," Obama said, using Shinseki's nickname. "I am grateful for his service, as are many veterans across the country. He worked hard to investigate and identify the problems with access to care, but, as he told me this morning, the VA needs new leadership to address them. He does not want to be a distraction, because his priority is to fix the problem to make sure vets get the care they need. That was Ric's judgment on behalf of his fellow veterans. I agree. We don't have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem."
Obama said that the White House will soon begin a search for Shinseki's replacement. Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson will serve as interim secretary.
Shinseki and Obama met in the Oval Office just after 10:30 a.m. to discuss the secretary's internal audit of his department.
Obama's statement comes just hours after Shinseki apologized, but defended his record, in a speech before the National Council of Homeless Veterans this morning. A defiant Shinseki said that he would fire senior officials at the Phoenix Health Care System, where the scandal originated, and withhold bonuses for leaders at the department this year, but added that "leadership and integrity problems can and must be fixed," presumably with him at the helm.
Shinseki also told House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday that the inspector general, who is investigating incidents of veterans waiting months for care across the country, that no further leadership changes should be made until the investigation has been resolved.
The IG released an interim report on Wednesday showing that 1,700 veterans in Phoenix remain on waiting lists there and that, on average, those who were seen waited 115 days for an initial appointment. That announcement lead more than 100 members of Congress to call for Shinseki's resignation, including at least 40 Democrats.