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.
“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.