Shinseki on VA Scandal: I’m Sorry

The Veterans Affairs chief says he takes responsibility for failures, but isn’t ready to step aside.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 21: Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki arrives at the White House before a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama May 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. The White House announced that Obama and Shinseki will speak to the press after their meeting. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
May 30, 2014, 5:10 a.m.

Up­date: Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced Gen. Shin­seki’s resig­na­tion at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day morn­ing.

Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­ret­ary Eric Shin­seki apo­lo­gized Fri­day morn­ing for the de­part­ment’s fail­ures and an­nounced he will re­move all seni­or lead­er­ship at the Phoenix health care fa­cil­ity that has been at the cen­ter of a wait-list scan­dal that has en­gulfed the de­part­ment and threatens to re­move him from of­fice.

Shin­seki also an­nounced, at a speech be­fore the Na­tion­al Co­ali­tion of Home­less Vet­er­ans, that no seni­or lead­ers at the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment will re­ceive a bo­nus this year, even as calls on Cap­it­ol Hill have grown for his resig­na­tion.

“I said when this situ­ation began weeks to months ago that I thought the prob­lem was lim­ited and isol­ated, be­cause I be­lieved that. I no longer be­lieve it. It is sys­tem­ic. I was too trust­ing of some, and I ac­cep­ted as ac­cur­ate re­ports that I now know to have been mis­lead­ing with re­gard to pa­tient wait times…. I will not de­fend it, be­cause it is in­defens­ible. But I can take re­spons­ib­il­ity for it, and I do. So, giv­en the facts I now know, I apo­lo­gize as the seni­or lead­er of the De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs. I ex­tend that apo­logy to the people whom I care most deeply about — that’s the vet­er­ans of the great coun­try, to their fam­il­ies and loved ones who I have been honored to serve for over five years now as the call of a life­time,” Shin­seki said.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4983) }}Shin­seki went on to ex­tend his apo­logy to mem­bers of Con­gress — nearly 100 of whom have called on him to step down — and to the Amer­ic­an people.

But the secv­ret­ary did not of­fer his resig­na­tion, ar­guing that “lead­er­ship and in­teg­rity prob­lems can and must be fixed.” In dis­cuss­ing the na­tion’s epi­dem­ic of home­less­ness among vet­er­ans earli­er in his speech, Shin­seki said he has done this kind of thing be­fore. “Since 2009, VA has proven that it can fix prob­lems, even big ones, with the sup­port of our pub­lic and private part­ners,” Shin­seki said, even as a num­ber of those part­ners, mem­bers of Con­gress and vet­er­ans groups, have called for him to step down.

Shin­seki also an­nounced his sup­port for le­gis­la­tion from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would give him more power to re­move seni­or of­fi­cials at the de­part­ment. The House passed sim­il­ar le­gis­la­tion on a bi­par­tis­an basis last week.

Shin­seki is set to meet with Pres­id­ent Obama later this morn­ing, where the two will sit down in the Oval Of­fice to dis­cuss Shin­seki’s in­tern­al re­view of the mat­ter. So far, the White House has been hands-off in re­gard to Shin­seki’s em­ploy­ment, say­ing that the sec­ret­ary is es­sen­tially on pro­ba­tion as the in­spect­or gen­er­al and oth­ers con­tin­ue to in­vest­ig­ate the mat­ter.

In an in­ter­view for ABC’s Live! With Kelly and Mi­chael, taped on Thursday but aired Fri­day morn­ing, Obama said he would “have a ser­i­ous con­ver­sa­tion” with Shin­seki. “I’ll have a ser­i­ous con­ver­sa­tion with him about wheth­er he thinks that, you know, he is pre­pared and has the ca­pa­city to take on the job of fix­ing it, be­cause I don’t want any vet­er­an to not be get­ting the kind of ser­vices that they de­serve,” Obama said.

Shin­seki’s com­ments Fri­day morn­ing come just two days after the in­spect­or gen­er­al re­leased an ini­tial re­view, find­ing that 1,700 vet­er­ans at the Phoenix fa­cil­ity re­main on a wait list, where oth­er vet­er­ans waited an av­er­age of 115 days for care.

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