On Friday, May 30, U.S. President Barack Obama accepted the resignation of U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki following allegations of VA employee misconduct and the resulting independent review.
Obama said he is now accepting Shinseki’s resignation because he believes Shinseki would be a distraction from making the needed fixes to the VA medical system.
“Shinseki probably has more information of what is going on in the system then anyone else,” said Terry Nicholas, a veteran and member of Cathay Post 186. “By him resigning we start over. I think he is more methodical in his investigating of this matter. I was so sorry to see the President cave to his critics.”
Nicholas said problems lie with the size of the VA and their lack of preparation to care for veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“My experience with the VA has been mixed,” Nicholas said. “But I do think it is a very large bureaucracy that may be so large that it cannot provide adequate care. It was so obvious that they never thought that the veterans from the Iraq and Afghan wars were going to need care. One could almost laugh at the VA, they never saw it coming.”
Shinseki addresses the ‘elephant in the room’
Shinseki spoke earlier today on the report’s findings:
“After Wednesday’s release of an interim Inspector General report, we now know that VA has a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity within some of our Veterans Health Administration facilities. That breach of trust involved the tracking of patient wait times for appointments.
“The initial findings of our ongoing internal review of other large VA healthcare facilities also show that to be true. That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible, and unacceptable to me.
“I said when this situation began that 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 can’t explain the lack of integrity amongst some of the leaders of our healthcare facilities. This is something I very rarely encountered during 38 years in uniform. I will not defend it because it is indefensible. But I can take responsibility for it, and I do.
“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 about most deeply—the Veterans of this great country—and to their families and loved ones, whom I have been honored to serve for over five years now—the call of a lifetime.
“I also offer that apology to Members of Congress who have supported me, to Veterans Service Organizations, and to the American people. All of them deserve better from their VA.”
The VA moves forward
Shinseki said the VA will be taking the following actions:
• Remove the senior leaders at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.
• Use all authority at their disposal to enforce accountability among senior leaders who are found to have instigated or tolerated dishonorable or irresponsible scheduling practices at VA healthcare facilities.
• VHA senior executives will not receive any type of performance award this year.
• Patient wait times are to be deleted from VHA employees’ evaluation reports as a measure of their success.
• Each of the 1,700 Veterans in Phoenix waiting for appointments will be contacted to bring them the care they need—accelerated access to care will be available for Veterans nationwide who need it.
The results of the nationwide audit of all VA healthcare facilities is expected to be announced in several days.
Shinseki is a retired U.S. Army General. He was nominated by President Barack Obama in December 2008 to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs and was sworn in as the seventh Secretary of Veterans Affairs in January 2009. Shinseki served as Chief of Staff, United States Army, from 1999 to 2003, and retired from active duty in August 2003.
Editor’s note (6/13/14 at 10:13 a.m.): A quote from Terry Nicholas was included.