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.
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.