Eric Shinseki Is Out at the VA, Says Obama

The Veterans Affairs secretary submitted his resignation to the president on Friday.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
May 30, 2014, 7:22 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced Fri­day morn­ing that Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­ret­ary Eric Shin­seki will step down in the wake of a wait-list scan­dal that his en­gulfed his de­part­ment and lead more than 100 mem­bers of Con­gress to seek his resig­na­tion.

“Ric’s com­mit­ment to our vet­er­ans is un­ques­tioned. “¦ I am grate­ful for his ser­vice, as are many vet­er­ans across the coun­try,” Obama said, us­ing Shin­seki’s nick­name. “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.”

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4984) }}

Obama said that the White House will soon be­gin a search for Shin­seki’s re­place­ment, but that Deputy Sec­ret­ary of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sloan Gib­son will serve as act­ing sec­ret­ary in the in­ter­im.

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.

Gen. Shin­seki is “a good per­son who’s done ex­em­plary work on our be­half,” Obama said Fri­day, “and un­der his lead­er­ship, we have seen more pro­gress on more fronts at the VA and a big­ger in­vest­ment in the VA than just about any oth­er VA sec­ret­ary.”

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.

After the pres­id­ent’s an­nounce­ment, Pelosi said in a state­ment that “the de­par­ture of Sec­ret­ary Shin­seki will not solve the sys­tem­ic chal­lenges with­in the VA” and called the gen­er­al “a lead­er, a hero, and a pub­lic ser­vant of great val­or and great sac­ri­fice.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, chair of the Sen­ate Com­mit­tee on Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs, said in a state­ment that Shin­seki is “an Amer­ic­an hero” and that he is “sad that he resigned.” Rep. Jeff Miller, chair of the House Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said in a state­ment that Gen. Shin­seki “is tak­ing the brunt of the blame for these prob­lems, but he is not the only one with­in VA who bears re­spons­ib­il­ity” and that “whomever the next sec­ret­ary may be, they will re­ceive no grace peri­od from Amer­ica’s vet­er­ans, Amer­ic­an tax­pay­ers and Con­gress.”

Speak­er John Boehner, who res­isted join­ing in calls for Shin­seki’s resig­na­tion, told re­port­ers Fri­day that, “today’s an­nounce­ment really changes noth­ing” and put the onus on Pres­id­ent Obama to make big changes at the VA. “One per­son­nel change should not be used as an ex­cuse to pa­per over a sys­tem­ic prob­lem,” he said.

Boehner went on to call on Obama to urge the VA to par­ti­cip­ate more fully in the House’s in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the mat­ter and called on the Sen­ate to take up the House-passed VA Man­age­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Act, which would give Act­ing Sec­ret­ary Sloan Gib­son great­er abil­ity to fire seni­or of­fi­cials with­in the de­part­ment. The Sen­ate has its own ver­sion of the bill, sponsored by Sanders, which Shin­seki en­dorsed be­fore hand­ing in his resig­na­tion Fri­day morn­ing.

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.

With Shin­seki out, Obama no longer has an Asi­an-Amer­ic­an serving in a top po­s­i­tion in his cab­in­et, fol­low­ing the de­par­tures of former En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Steven Chu, former Com­merce Sec­ret­ary Gary Locke and former Cab­in­et Sec­ret­ary Chris Lu, who now serves as the Deputy Sec­ret­ary of Labor.

Al­though he said that he agreed with Shin­seki’s view that the sec­ret­ary should step down, Obama de­fen­ded his own re­cord on vet­er­ans is­sues, ar­guing that the cur­rent prob­lems with schedul­ing were not known un­til re­cently. But he also ar­gued of over­all prob­lems at the VA that “this pred­ates my pres­id­ency.”

“I can say con­fid­ently is that this has been a pri­or­ity. It’s been a pri­or­ity re­flec­ted in my budget. and that in terms of man­aging the VA, where we have seen a prob­lem and where we have been aware of a prob­lem, we have gone after it and fixed it and have been able to make sig­ni­fic­ant pro­gress. But what is ab­so­lutely clear is this one, this is­sue of schedul­ing is one that the re­port­ing sys­tems in­side of the VA did not sur­face to the level where Ric was aware of it or we were able to see it. This was not something we were hear­ing when I was trav­el­ing around the coun­try,” Obama said.

Obama denied that Shin­seki’s resig­na­tion was polit­ic­ally-mo­tiv­ated, but said that his con­tin­ued ser­vice would be a “dis­trac­tion.” Obama said that he wants a VA Sec­ret­ary to be fo­cused wholly on solv­ing prob­lems with­in the de­part­ment, “not how are they get­ting second-guessed and spec­u­la­tion about their fu­tures and so forth and so on and that’s what Ric agreed to as well.”

This post has been up­dated with state­ments from con­gres­sion­al lead­ers.

What We're Following See More »
Metro to Begin Rolling Closures Next Month
1 hours ago

Beginning next month, Metro will begin a series of "about 15 separate large-scale work projects," each of which will close down stations and/or sections of track for up to weeks at a time. The entire initiative is expected to take about a year. The Washington Post has a list of the schedule of closures, and which lines and stations they'll affect.

Trump to Meet with Ryan, Leadership Next Week
1 hours ago

A day after saying he could not yet support Donald Trump's presidential bid, House Speaker Paul Ryan has invited the billionaire to a meeting in Washington next week with House leadership. Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will also meet separately with Trump. 

Obama on Trump: ‘This Is a Really Serious Job’
2 hours ago

"President Obama used the White House podium on Friday to dismiss Donald Trump as an unserious candidate to succeed him, and said leading the country isn't a job that's suited to reality show antics." At a briefing with reporters, the president said, "I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States. And what that means is that every candidate, every nominee needs to be subject to exacting standards and genuine scrutiny."

Panama Papers Spur White House to Crack Down on Evasion
4 hours ago

In the The White House on Thursday night unveiled a series of executive actions to combat money laundering—"among the most comprehensive response yet to the Panama Papers revelations." The president's orders will tighten transparency rules, close loopholes that allow "foreigners to hide financial activity behind anonymous entities in the U.S., and demand stricter “customer due diligence” rules for banks.

Who’s #NeverTrump Courting as Possible Candidates
4 hours ago

The #NeverTrump movement is now mulling the idea of recruiting a candidate to run as an independent or under a third-party banner. But who might it be? The Hill offers a preliminary list.

  • Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE)
  • Mitt Romney
  • 2012 (and perhaps 2016) Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson
  • Former Marine Gen. John Kelly
  • Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI)
  • Former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
  • South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)