President Barack Obama announced on Friday that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shimseki would take the fall in the rapidly growing VA health care scandal. The president accepted Shinseki's resignation under pressure from both parties in Congress.
The announcement came after Shimseki met with Obama Friday morning at the White House where Obama was given an update on an internal review of the problems plaguing the Veteran's Administration health care services. The review showed that problems were not limited to just a few VA hospitals, but instead, were more widespread than previously thought. President Obama said, "It's totally unacceptable. Our veterans deserve the best."
In his meeting with reporters, President Obama said that even Shimseki "knew he had to go," saying the retired Army general told him that "the VA needs new leadership" to address the widespread problems cited in the new report. Obama added that Shinseki "does not want to be a distraction" to fixing the situation.
"That was Ric's judgment on behalf of his fellow veterans, and I agree. We don't have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem," Obama said.
Before the meeting with President Obama, Shimseki announced several "fixes" intended to address the VA's problems, including the removal of the senior leadership at the Phoenix, Arizona VA Hospital, and elimination of all performance awards for VA leaders for 2014. With an apology to veterans and Congress, Shimseki firmly declared, "This situation can be fixed."
Findings of the internal audit
Shinseki's presentation of the internal audit was to become his "swans song," and he left his meeting with the president without making any comments. The report found that many of the audited facilities had "questionable scheduling practices" that indicated a "systemic lack of integrity" within a number of VA health facilities.
Obama pointedly said there is "a need for a change in culture" at VA hospitals "and perhaps the VA as a whole" to make sure that any additional problems and "bad news" don't get covered up, but get reported and fixed.
Obama heaped praise on Shimseki both as a soldier "who left part of himself on the battlefield," and as a strong VA leader dedicated to veterans and their care. He named a Shinseki deputy, Sloan Gibson, to assume leadership of the Veterans Administration until a new leader could be named and confirmed. But while the resignation of Secretary Shimseki was applauded by political leaders, there is still skepticism over whether or not an end is in sight for a resolution of the problems with the VA system.
"The denial of care to our veterans is a national disgrace, and it's fitting that the person who oversees the Department of Veterans Affairs has accepted responsibility for this growing scandal and resigned," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement.
But McConnell and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as veterans groups and the public, are probably just as shocked as Shinseki was when the internal audit was made known today. As Secretary Shinseki said Friday morning while talking to a group from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, "That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible and unacceptable to me. I said when this situation began weeks to months ago and I thought the problem was limited and isolated because I believed that. I no longer believe that. It is systemic."