Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned amid explosive charges of mismanagement, falsification of records and systemic problems at veterans health facilities.
President Barack Obama announced that he accepted Shinseki's resignation "with considerable regret" after meeting with him on Friday morning. Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson will serve in the post temporarily until a permanent successor is announced, Obama said.
Calling Shinseki a "very good man" and a "champion of our veterans," Obama said he accepted the resignation because the secretary believed his continued tenure had become a "distraction" from attempts to fix the department's problems.
"In Ric's judgment, [he felt] he could not carry out the next stages of reform without being a distraction himself," Obama told reporters. "My assessment was, unfortunately, that he was right."
The controversy about mismanagement at Veterans Affairs hospitals has been brewing since an April report that dozens of veterans on a “secret waiting list” in Phoenix, AZ, died while waiting for care. Intense political pressure against Shinseki reached a crescendo this week as prominent lawmakers from both sides of the aisle called for his ouster, including a steady stream of Republicans and many Democrats who are facing tough elections in the fall.
In a farewell message posted on the VA's website, Shinseki wrote that his commitment "to veterans, their families, and our survivors was the driving force behind" his resignation. "That loyalty has never wavered, and it will never wane," he wrote.
A VA inspector general’s report released Wednesday showed that over 1,500 veterans at the Phoenix facility were kept off of an official waiting list. The report also found that such scheduling manipulation was “systemic” throughout the veterans’ health care system and that similar problems have existed there since 2005 -- long before Obama or Shinseki's tenure.
Earlier Friday, Shinseki apologized for the problems and promised to “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.”
Shinseki, a decorated general and Vietnam combat veteran who previously served as the Chief of Staff of the Army, has held the post since 2009.
Last week, Obama alluded to the possibility that Shinseki would step down if he felt he could not fix the problems plaguing the department.
"I know that Ric's attitude is if he doesn't think he can do a good job on this,and if he thinks he's let our veterans down, then I'm sure that he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve," he said then.
Lawmakers who had called for his ouster were quick to take to Twitter to praise Shinseki's decision to resign.
But in a statement, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus accused Obama of simply playing "musical chairs" instead of fixing the systemic problems at the VA.
"Regardless of who the President wants running his department, it's past time for the President to step up and fix this mess," Priebus said.
First published May 30 2014, 8:05 AM