President accepts Shinseki’s resignation to avoid distraction, fix V.A. problems
WASHINGTON D.C. — President Barack Obama said Friday that he decided to accept Eric Shinseki’s resignation after previously supporting his Veterans Affairs secretary because of Shinseki’s “belief that he would be a distraction from” making the needed fixes to the troubled VA medical system.
The announcement of Shinseki’s resignation came less than an hour after Shinseki arrived to discuss preliminary findings about sometimes deadly waits for veterans to get care at VA hospitals and other problems.
The President said Shinseki had served with honor, but that he agreed with Shinseki that the agency needed new leadership to avoid distractions.
“I agree. We don’t have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem,” Obama said.
Pres. Obama said problems with VA reporting systems “did not surface to the level” where Shinseki or the White House were aware of them.
He said there was “a need for a change in culture” at veterans hospitals “and perhaps the VA as a whole” to make sure that problems and “bad news” don’t get covered up, but get reported and fixed.
Speaking earlier Friday to a veterans group, Shinseki said he underestimated the depth of problems in the VA system and announced several steps, fixes, including removal of senior leaders at the Phoenix VA hospital and elimination of performance awards for VA leaders in 2014.
The retired Army general also apologized to veterans and Congress, but declared: “This situation can be fixed.”
He then went to the White House to meet with Obama about the problems that gained prominence after CNN began reporting problems at VA facilities in November. He left the White House after the meeting.
In an interview taped Thursday and broadcast Friday on ABC, Obama promised “a serious conversation” with Shinseki “to see whether he thinks that he is prepared and has the capacity to take on the job of fixing it because I don’t want any veteran to not be getting the kind of services they deserve.”
A source close to Shinseki said the retired Army general indicated in conversations this week that he will not offer his resignation unless asked for it.
The President named Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson to run the department on an interim basis while he searches for another secretary.