Shinseki Falls on Sword in VA Scandal
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The Fiscal Times
May 30, 2014

Eric Shinseki has finally admitted what so many American veterans have known and been battling for years: Problems at the VA are “systemic” – not “limited” and “isolated.”  

Hours after delivering a personal apology to his fellow wounded veterans for his department’s ongoing problems in delivering health care, retired four-star general Shinseki resigned as Secretary of Veterans Affairs on Friday morning. In a press conference at the White House,  President Obama said he accepted the resignation “with considerable regret” and announced that the former CEO of the United Service Organizations, Sloan Gibson, would take over the VA on an interim basis.

Related: Shinseki on the Hot Seat As VA Scandal Spirals

Obama praised Shinseki’s lifetime of service to the U.S., calling him “a good man who has done exemplary work.” He said that the decision to leave had been Shinseki’s, after he determined that he would be a distraction as the VA struggles to resolve a massive backlog of requests for services and to get to the bottom of potentially criminal actions by senior officials at various VA hospitals, who have actively concealed those problems.

Obama said he agreed with Shinseki’s assessment. “I regret that he has to resign under these circumstances,” the president said, adding, however, “We don’t have time for distractions. We need to fix the problems.”

The problems at the VA were uncovered by a whistleblower, who revealed the existence of secret waiting lists at the Phoenix VA hospital meant to obscure the fact that many veterans were actually waiting hundreds of days for needed care. Further investigation showed similar problems at more than 40 other VA facilities.

Shinseki delivered his resignation to the president at the White House just hours after delivering a speech to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, in which he took responsibility for the problems at the VA and apologized.

"I said when this situation began weeks to months ago that I thought 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,” Shinseki said.

Related: VA Scandal Exposes Single-Payer Health Care Flaws

“I can't explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our health care facilities. 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,” Shinseki added. “So 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 most deeply about, that’s the veterans of this great country, to their families and loved ones who I have been honored to serve for over five years now. It’s the call of a lifetime. I also offer that apology to members of Congress who have supported me, the veterans’ service organizations who have been my partner for five years and to the American people. All of them. All of them deserve better from their VA.”

Shinseki also announced a number of steps he had already taken to address the issue, including firing senior VA executives responsible for oversight of the hospitals, and cancelling all performance bonuses for VA senior executives.

Related: Senate Dems Block Bill to Make Firing VA Execs Easier

Shinseki’s resignation had been looking increasingly likely over the past few days, as dozens of member of Congress from both parties had called for him to step down.

In remarks announcing the leadership change at the VA, President Obama described the problems at the agency as something that had only just come to light, and blamed a reporting structure within the department that failed to get the necessary information to Shinseki. This will, no doubt, anger Republicans in Congress who have pointed out that the long wait times at VA hospitals were documented more than a year ago by the Government Accountability Office.

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A longtime reporter on the intersection of the federal government and the private sector, Rob Garver is National Correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He has written for ProPublica, The New York Times and other publications.