Here’s the Man Who Just Inherited a Broken Veterans Affairs System

Sloan Gibson will serve as acting secretary of the department, after Eric Shinseki resigned Friday.

Sloan Gibson.
National Journal
Marina Koren
May 30, 2014, 7:50 a.m.

Calls for the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs sec­ret­ary to step down amid a grow­ing scan­dal have been answered: Eric Shin­seki will resign.

Pres­id­ent Obama said Fri­day that he has ac­cep­ted the resig­na­tion of Shin­seki, a four-star gen­er­al who has been the face of con­firmed al­leg­a­tions of health care mis­man­age­ment at more than two dozen Vet­er­ans Af­fairs hos­pit­als across the coun­try.

The man of the hour is now Sloan Gib­son, who will serve as act­ing sec­ret­ary. Gib­son be­came the VA’s deputy sec­ret­ary just three months ago.

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“He, too, de­voted his life to serving our coun­try and our vet­er­ans,” Obama said Fri­day of the new de­part­ment chief. “His grand­fath­er fought on the front lines of World War I. His fath­er was a tail gun­ner in World War II.”

A gradu­ate of West Point, Gib­son spent 20 years in the bank­ing in­dustry be­fore join­ing the United Ser­vices Or­gan­iz­a­tions in 2008 as its pres­id­ent and CEO. Gib­son was nom­in­ated by Obama and con­firmed by the Sen­ate as Vet­er­ans Af­fairs deputy sec­ret­ary in Feb­ru­ary.

Here’s what that job en­tailed, ac­cord­ing to Stars and Stripes:

In re­cent years, the deputy sec­ret­ary post has in­cluded man­aging the day-to-day op­er­a­tions of VA and ex­pand­ing in­ter­agency co­oper­a­tion with De­fense De­part­ment, the De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment, the De­part­ment of Labor and oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies.

At a nom­in­a­tion hear­ing be­fore the Sen­ate in Novem­ber, Gib­son ac­know­ledged the sys­tem­ic is­sues at the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment:

“No one’s happy with where things are right now,” he said. “No one’s sat­is­fied. Where we are in terms of timeli­ness is not ac­cept­able. But I think there’s some ex­cep­tion­al work go­ing on right now de­signed to per­man­ently erad­ic­ate the claims back­log. The in­nov­at­ive work to in­teg­rate in­vest­ments in people, pro­cess, and tech­no­logy, I think, are ex­actly the right things to do.”

As in­ter­im Vet­er­ans Af­fairs chief, Gib­son is in for a long few weeks — or months — un­til a per­man­ent sec­ret­ary is found.

“At this stage, what I want is some­body at the VA who is not spend­ing time out­side of solv­ing prob­lems for the vet­er­ans,” Obama said Thursday. The pres­id­ent said that re­quests by mem­bers of Con­gress for Shin­seki’s resig­na­tion have served as a dis­trac­tion from the real is­sues that plague the de­part­ment. “I want some­body spend­ing every minute of every day fig­ur­ing out, have we called every single vet­er­an that’s wait­ing? Have they got­ten a sched­ule? Are we fix­ing the sys­tem?”

The White House could also de­cide to keep Gib­son on for good, to avoid a con­firm­a­tion battle in the Sen­ate. But short-lived or not, the jour­ney for the new Vet­er­ans Af­fairs chief is just be­gin­ning. 

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