WASHINGTON – In the midst of a growing scandal over deadly delays in care and secret waiting lists at the VA, embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki offered his resignation May 30, and President Barack Obama said he accepted it “with considerable regret.”
The resignation was announced by the president at a White House briefing. Earlier, in what Obama called “a truly remarkable action,” Shinseki had, in public comments, taken responsibility for the conduct of the VA facilities under fire and apologized to veterans and the American people.
Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson will become Acting Secretary, according to the White House. Gibson, who graduated from West Point and served in the infantry, is the former president and CEO of the USO. He joined VA management three months ago.
Shinseki, a veteran himself who was injured in Vietnam, was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate to become Secretary of Veterans Affairs in January 2009.
“Ric Shinseki has served his country with honor for nearly 50 years,” Obama said. “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.
“As Secretary at the VA, he presided over record investments in our veterans — enrolling 2 million new veterans in health care, delivering disability pay to more Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, making it easier for veterans with post-traumatic stress, mental health issues and traumatic brain injury to get treatment, improving care for our women veterans. At the same time, he helped reduce veteran homelessness, and helped more than 1 million veterans, servicemembers and their families pursue their education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.”
Shinseki reportedly told the president that the VA needed new leadership to address care delivery issues at the VA and that he did not want to be a distraction.
“And I agree,” Obama said at the press briefing. “We don’t have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem.”
On May 28, a VA IG interim report found 1,700 veterans waiting for a primary care appointment even though they were not included on the Phoenix VA Health Care System’s electronic wait list, as they should have been.
“Until that happens, the reported wait time for these veterans has not started. Most importantly, these veterans were and continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix HCS’s convoluted scheduling process. As a result, these veterans may never obtain a requested or required clinical appointment,” VA Acting Inspector General Richard J. Griffin wrote in the report.
s investigation was spurred by allegations that patients may have died because of treatment delays and that many were on a secret wait list to hide their actual wait times. the report stated.
Shinseki called the findings “reprehensible.” He said that he was directing the Phoenix VA Health Care System (VAHCS) to “immediately triage each of the 1,700 veterans identified by the OIG to bring them timely care.”
“I have already placed the Phoenix VAHCS leadership on administrative leave, and have directed an independent site team to assess scheduling and administrative practices at the Phoenix VAHCS. This team began their work in April, and we are already taking action on multiple recommendations from this report,” he said in a written statement.
In response to the report, some lawmakers continued to call on Shinseki to resign, including House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL). Miller also called on Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a criminal investigation.
The nominee for new VA secretary has served as the White House physician for the last three presidential administrations.
In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an alert about increased risk for suicidal ideation and behavior for patients taking anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs).