WASHINGTON (AP) — Beset by growing evidence of patient delays and cover-ups, embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned from President Barack Obama’s Cabinet yesterday, taking the blame for what he decried as a “lack of integrity” in the sprawling health care system for the nation’s military veterans.
Obama, under mounting pressure to act from fellow Democrats who are worried about political fallout in the fall elections, praised the retired four-star general and said he accepted his resignation with “considerable regret.” But the president, too, focused on increasingly troubling allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at veterans hospitals around the country.
Emerging from an Oval Office meeting with Shinseki, a stone-faced Obama said the secretary himself acknowledged he had become a distraction as the administration moves to address the VA’s troubles, and the president agreed with him.
“We don’t have time for distractions,” Obama said. “We need to fix the problem.”
One of Shinseki’s last acts as secretary was to hand the president an internal accounting that underscored just how big the problems have become. It showed that in some cases, VA schedulers have been pressured to fake information for reports to make waiting times for medical appointments look more favorable.
“It is totally unacceptable,” Obama said. “Our vets deserve the best. They’ve earned it.”
The president appointed Sloan Gibson, the No. 2 at the Veterans Affairs Department, as temporary secretary as the search for a permanent successor began. Obama also asked Rob Nabors, a top White House aide who has been dispatched to the VA to oversee a broad review, to stay for the time being.
Gibson, who has been Shinseki’s deputy for about three months, was formerly president and chief executive officer of the USO, the nonprofit organization that provides programs and services to U.S. troops and their families. Gibson is the son of an Army Air Corpsman who served in World War II and grandson of a World War I Army infantryman.