In a Friday morning statement, President Obama announced that "with regret," he has accepted the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Shinseki faced increasing calls to resign, including from many members of Congress, as reports emerged of unacceptable wait times for care across the VA health care system. Sloan D. Gibson, currently the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, will serve as acting Secretary until the administration can find a replacement.
However, the President also made it clear that he believed Shinseki's VA tenure was marked by his willingness to be a "champion" for veterans, and that the Secretary is a "good man." Obama said: "Ric's commitment to our veterans is unquestioned....I am grateful for his service." The President also praised Shinseki's statement from earlier on Friday, where the now outgoing Secretary announced a series of reforms to the VA's troubled health care system and apologized for the widespread "lack of integrity" among senior VA leaders.
In response to a question from the press, Obama said that he was convinced to accept Shinseki's resignation based on "Ric's judgement" that "he could not carry out the next stages of reform without being a distraction." The President added that Shinseki "felt like new leadership would serve our veterans best, and I agree with him."
The President also pushed back against the perception among some that the VA's problems began with his administration: "The VA is a big organization that has had problems for a very long time," he said. The President added that the actual health care provided by the VA has gotten "high marks" under review, once veterans have been able to access it.
Original Post: Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki's Friday morning speech to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans conference addressed what he now believes to be "systemic," "indefensible" problems at many VA health care facilities across the country, following reports of secret "waiting lists" and patient deaths connected to some of the department's hospitals.
To address the VA's findings, which will be released in the "coming days," (a preliminary report came out on Wednesday) Shinseki said he is in the process of removing the "senior leaders" of the Phoenix VA center that was the focus of recent reports. He also announced a handful of other immediate responses, including the cancellation of bonuses for all senior officials working on VA health care. And going forward, the department will not tie senior officials' bonuses to wait times at their health care facilities. Earlier, the VA announced that it would return to a 30-day waiting period guideline for its facilities, and would begin referring waiting veterans to outside facilities for faster care.
"Let me address the elephant in the room today," Shinseki said after a well-received speech on veteran homelessness, adding, "we now know that the VA has a systemic... lack of integrity" in some of its health care facilities. Based on the VA's investigation into the reported issues, Shinseki said that he "no longer believes" that the problem is "isolated." He said, "I can't explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our health care facilities. But I can take responsibility for it, and I do...Given the facts I now know, I apologize as the senior leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs."
Following increasing calls for his resignation among members of Congress, all eyes are now on Shinseki's 10:15 a.m. meeting with President Obama, which will be closed to the press. The Hill's Justin Sink noted that press secretary Jay Carney seemed to back away from defending Shinseki's leadership on Thursday, leading some to speculate that the secretary might resign on Friday.