Embattled Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday morning in the wake of a scandal involving fatal delays in health care for veterans.
“He does not want to be a distraction because his priority is to fix the problem,” President Obama said in announcing that he had accepted Shinseki’s resignation. “My assessment was unfortunately that he was right.”
The announcement came after a meeting between Obama and Shinseki. Earlier, Shinseki publicly apologized for the scandal currently roiling the agency he has overseen for over five years.
“I apologize as the senior leader of Veterans Affairs,” he said at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans 2014 conference Friday morning, according to The Hill. "That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible and unacceptable to me.
“I extend that apology to the people I care most deeply about, and 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.”
The scandal became national news in April with revelations that a VA hospital in Phoenix kept off-the-books wait lists for veterans seeking care to hide the long wait times—up to 115 days to see a primary care doctor—from federal overseers in Washington. “At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list,” CNN reported last month.
An initial report by the VA inspector general into the situation in Phoenix found 1,700 veterans waiting for care who were not even on the official VA wait list, effectively hidden from VA headquarters. Shinseki pledged to get these veterans immediate care while a nationwide investigation continues.
"I was too trusting of some, and I accepted as accurate reports that I now know to be misleading with regard to patient wait times,” Shinseki said during his remarks Friday.
Shinseki’s political support had dwindled in recent weeks as calls for his resignation mounted from both sides of the aisle. Notably, Democrats running tough campaigns against Republicans in this year’s midterms have called for Shinseki to step down, including senators Mark Warner of Virginia, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Mark Udall of Colorado, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. On Thursday, Representative Michael H. Michaud, ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee—who is running for governor in his home state of Maine—added his voice to the chorus.
In addition to getting treatment to the 1,700 veterans waiting for care in Phoenix and awaiting a larger inspector general report due later this summer, Shinseki has taken steps to remove leadership at the Phoenix VA medical center, decided not to award any senior VA officials with performance bonuses this year and ordered that wait times no longer be part of VA officials’ performance reviews.
Even before the scandal, the VA was struggling with a massive benefits backlog affecting hundreds of thousands of veterans.
Sloan Gibson, the deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, will take over as acting secretary.