Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apologized Friday for what he called "irresponsible and unacceptable" practices at VA health care facilities and announced that he has started the process of firing leadership at the Phoenix facility at the epicenter of the scandal.
"Given the facts I now know, I apologize as the senior leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs," he said at a meeting of the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans in Washington D.C.
"I cannot explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our health care facilities," he said. "This is something I rarely encountered during 38 years in uniform. And so I will not defend it, because it is indefensible, but I can take responsibility for it and I do."
The remarks came before President Barack Obama was to meet with Shinseki "to receive an update on the situation at the Department of Veterans Affairs."
Obama will address reporters after that meeting, the White House announced, prompting speculation that Shinseki's firing could be imminent. That statement is scheduled for 11:15 am ET.
Shinseki said Friday that he has started the process of firing senior executives at the Phoenix facility that first prompted the massive inquiry and that he has eliminated bonuses for top VA staff system-wide.
"We will use all authority at our disposal to enforce accountability among senior leaders who have been found to have instigated or tolerated irresponsible or dishonorable scheduling practices at VA health care facility," he added.
Obama has so far resisted pressure to oust Shinseki, but his administration’s early statements of support him have faded in recent days.
Obama said in an interview on ABC’s “Live! with Kelly and Michael” that he intends to have a “serious conversation” with Shinseki about his performance .
Attendees gave Shinseki a warm welcome despite mounting calls for his resignation in the wake of revelations of mismanagement of waiting lists at VA facilities. More than 100 lawmakers, including many Democrats facing tough midterm elections, have said that Shinseki, a retired Army general and Vietnam combat veteran, should go.
And on Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to directly answer questions about whether the president still has confidence in Shinseki’s ability to lead the VA, saying that Obama believes there “ought to be accountability” after all the facts of the VA scandal are established.