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
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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.”

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.

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