By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON – VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson temporarily took the helm of the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs last month after reports of widespread misconduct by VA medical facilities upended the career of Secretary Eric Shinseki.
After saying in recent weeks that he would not resign, Shinseki stepped down as the VA was rocked by a scandal involving the manipulation of patient wait times.
“My personal and professional commitment and my loyalty to veterans, their families, and our survivors was the driving force behind that decision,” Shinseki said. “That loyalty has never wavered, and it will never wane.”
Prior to resigning and after the release of an interim IG report that confirmed the malfeasance, Shinseki apologized “as the senior leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs” and acknowledged that the problem was more widespread that he knew.
“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 that. It is systemic.”
The VA’s Office of Inspector General has said that civil, or even criminal charges, could be brought because of the wait list manipulation at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, which may have affected bonus payouts to administrators.
Shinseki, a retired general who once headed the Army, said he could not explain “the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our healthcare facilities,” and that it was something he “rarely encountered” during his 38 years in uniform.
President Obama said that he accepted Shinseki’s resignation with “considerable regret.”
“Ric Shinseki has served his country with honor for nearly 50 years. He did two tours of combat in Vietnam; he’s a veteran who left a part of himself on the battlefield. He rose to command the First Cavalry Division, served as Army Chief of Staff, and has never been afraid to speak truth to power,” he said.
Earlier in May, the VA announced that VA Under Secretary of Health Robert A. Petzel, MD, who had planned to retire in 2014 after a successor was named, had stepped down from his position because of the controversy.
In tapping Gibson, the former head of the USO, as acting secretary, Obama explained that his administration would “look diligently for a new permanent VA secretary and we hope to confirm that successor and fill that post as soon as possible.”
At his first meeting with the leadership of Veterans Service Organizations (VSO), Gibson announced that the VA has reached out to all Phoenix veterans identified in the recent OIG report. If the Phoenix VA Health Care System is not able to promptly provide care using VA providers, Sloan said community providers will be identified and used through the non-VA care program.