Obama announced that he accepted Shinseki's resignation "with
considerable regret," after the two met on Friday to review initial
findings of an internal audit of scheduling abuses at VA facilities
across the country.
The audit found that patient appointment wait times had been
misrepresented at least once at over 60 percent of the 216 VA sites
surveyed. It also said, with growing demand for services, a 14-day
goal for medical appointments instituted under Shinseki was "simply
not attainable" for the VA and should be scrapped.
Earlier this week, the VA's inspector general released a scathing
report that confirmed allegations that staff in Phoenix had masked
months-long wait times and were motivated by meeting the two-week
targets used for salary and bonus awards.
Over the past few days, calls for Shinseki to step down grew louder.
Dozens of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers said it was time
for new leadership at the VA.
Obama praised Shinseki's military career and accomplishments in
other veterans issues such as reducing homelessness, but said the
71-year-old retired Army general told him he "does not want to be a
distraction" to fixing the VA's problems.
"That was Ric's judgment on behalf of his fellow veterans, and I
agree. We don't have time for distractions. We need to fix the
problem," Obama said.
Obama said Sloan Gibson, deputy secretary of the VA, would take the
helm on an acting basis while he looked "diligently" for a new
permanent VA secretary. Gibson, an Army veteran and former banker,
had joined the VA just three months ago after running the USO
military service organization.
Some lawmakers and veterans service group said Gibson would be a
credible candidate for permanent secretary because of his work
transforming the USO to meet the needs of a new generation of
military service members and veterans.
"Sloan is a great leader," said Tom Tarantino, policy director for
the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "If he wants the job,
he would definitely be on that short list."
Others mentioned as possible successors to Shinseki include former
Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb,
and Representative Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who lost both legs in
an Iraq war helicopter crash and is a former VA assistant secretary.
Members of Congress applauded Shinseki's departure as a step toward
restoring confidence in the embattled agency that provides
healthcare and other benefits to veterans.
"The denial of care to our veterans is a national disgrace and it’s
fitting that the person who oversees the Department of Veterans
Affairs has accepted responsibility for this growing scandal and
resigned," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of
Representative Patrick Murphy, a Democrat whose south Florida
district is home to many military retirees, said: "We think it's the
right thing to do. We have to restore some faith and confidence in
the VA and at this point, that was probably the only way to do it."
[to top of second column]
PRESSURE ON OBAMA
The scandal over the cover-up of veteran care delays has grown into
a top national issue just five months before congressional elections
in which all 435 House of Representatives seats and one third of
Senate seats are up for grabs. Republicans, who dominate the House,
need to gain just six seats to take control of the U.S. Senate.
Republicans sought to keep Obama on the defensive over the VA
problems, which along with the botched launch of health insurance
reforms, they say is another example of his administration's
“One personnel change cannot be used as an excuse to paper over a
systemic problem,” said House speaker John Boehner. "We'll hold the
president accountable until he makes things right."
Inspector general probes into scheduling abuses are now active at 42
VA locations. In Phoenix, doctors have said some 40 veterans died
while waiting months for care.
Shinseki's resignation came just after he addressed the National
Coalition for Homeless Veterans and apologized to veterans,
lawmakers and the American people for the abuses.
Shinseki announced to the group that the Phoenix VA medical center's
senior leaders would be removed and he would use all authority at
his disposal to hold accountable those "who instigated or tolerated
dishonorable or irresponsible scheduling."
Shinseki said no senior executives of the Veterans Health
Administration would receive performance awards this year and said
the VA would quickly get appointments for 1,700 Phoenix veterans
still waiting to see a doctor.
"That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible and
unacceptable to me," Shinseki said.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey, David Alexander, Mark Felsenthal,
Richard Cowan and David Lawder; Editing by Caren Bohan and Gunna
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