President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed to get to the bottom of alleged misconduct at Veterans Affairs agency hospitals, calling the reported activity "dishonorable" and "disgraceful" but expressing confidence that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will continue working with the administration to solve the problem "at this stage."
"If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful and I will not tolerate it, period," he said in remarks at the White House.
Obama made the statement after meeting with Shinseki and top White House aide Rob Nabors, whom Obama has tapped to help fix the department’s problems.
Several high-profile lawmakers have called for Shinseki’s ouster over the matter, but Obama said that the secretary has been "a great public servant" for veterans and for the country.
But, he warned: "I want to see what the results of these reports are and there is going to be accountability."
"I know that Ric's attitude is that if does not think he can do a good job on this, and if he thinks he's let our veterans down, then I'm sure he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve," he said of Shinseki. "At this stage, Ric is committed to solving the problem and working with us to do it."
The president also highlighted the administration's efforts to reduce homelessness and unemployment among veterans, as well as a push to slash the VA backlog.
His comments were the first on the VA facility controversy since he addressed the issue on April 28.
The White House is facing an increasing outcry over allegations that VA hospital employees tampered with data and built hidden waiting lists to obscure the long delays veterans faced when needing care.
Nabors is headed to Phoenix this week to meet with officials at the VA facility where reports of the misconduct first surfaced earlier this month. Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, is also set to meet with Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Lawmakers are expected to vote soon on a bipartisan bill that would enable easier dismissal of VA officials.
Critics say that the Obama administration has acted too slowly to address the scandal, which has made headlines nationwide and exacerbated frustration about a VA system that has long been characterized as dysfunctional and out of date.
"While I am glad that after many weeks of refusing to acknowledge this widening scandal, President Obama finally saw fit to speak about it today, but his remarks are wholly insufficient in addressing the fundamental, systemic problems plaguing our veterans' health care system," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement.
"It took one month since news broke of the secret wait lists and veteran deaths at a Phoenix VA hospital for Americans to hear from the Commander in Chief," said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Obama said Wednesday that his administration has been focused on veterans issues since long before the scandal broke, saying that "taking care of veterans of their families has been one of the causes of my presidency."
First published May 21 2014, 7:51 AM