President Barack Obama announced Friday morning that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned.
After a meeting with Shinseki, who has faced relentless criticism since reports emerged about chronic problems with VA medical centers across the country -- including altered waiting lists -- Obama called the situation totally unacceptable and announced his only VA secretary had resigned.
A few minutes ago, Sec. Shinseki offered me his own resignation. And with considerable regret, I accepted, Obama said before praising Shinsekis record in the Army and praising his record on improving veteran access to education.
The VA needs new leadership, Obama said, before insisting Shinseki did not want to be a distraction because his priority is to fix the problem and make sure our vets are getting the care that they need. I agree. We don't have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem.
For the moment, Obama is turning to Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson to lead the department on an interim basis.
Sloan became deputy secretary at the VA just three months ago, but he, too, has devoted his life to serving our country and our veterans, Obama said. His grandfather fought on the front lines of World War I. His father was a tailgunner in World War II. Sloan graduated from West Point, earned his airborne and ranger qualifications and served in the infantry. And, most recently, he was president and CEO of the USO, which does a remarkable job supporting our men and women at war, their families, our wounded warriors, and families of the fallen.
"So, all told, Sloan has 20 years of private-sector and nonprofit experience that he brings to bear on our ongoing work to build a 21st century VA. And I'm grateful that he is willing to take on this task. I met with Sloan after I met with Ric this morning, and made it clear that reforms should not wait. They need to proceed immediately.
The Florida congressional delegation, many of whose members had been sharply critical of Shinseki, quickly responded, saying it was the right decision.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called Shinsekis resignation the right thing for veterans and the country. Nelson repeated his call for major changes of leadership at VA.
Now that he resigned, we can get on, Nelson said. There ought to be a lot of heads rolling, because there is something in the culture of the VA that is not responding to serve our veterans the very best that they deserve.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, praised Shinsekis record in the Army but insisted his record in the Obama Cabinet will forever be tainted due to poor leadership on VA medical centers.
"Everybody knows Eric Shinseki is an honorable man whose dedication to our country is beyond reproach, Miller said on Friday. I thank him for his legacy of service to our nation. Unfortunately, Shinseki's tenure at the Department of Veterans Affairs will forever be tainted by a pervasive lack of accountability among poorly performing VA employees and managers, apparent widespread corruption among medical center officials and an unparalleled lack of transparency with Congress, the public and the press. Appropriately, Shinseki is taking the brunt of the blame for these problems, but he is not the only one within VA who bears responsibility. Nearly every member of Shinseki's inner circle failed him in a major way. Those who surrounded Shinseki shielded him from crucial facts and hid bad news reports, in the process convincing him that some of the departments most serious, well-documented and systemic issues were merely isolated incidents to be ignored. Eric Shinseki trusted the VA bureaucracy, and the VA bureaucracy let him down.
Right now, VA needs a leader who will take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the departments culture of complacency with a climate of accountability, Miller added. VAs problems are deadly serious, and whomever the next secretary may be, they will receive no grace period from Americas veterans, American taxpayers and Congress.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., praised Shinsekis service in the military but insisted there were serious issues at VA medical centers under his watch.
"It's unacceptable that VA facilities across the U.S. have been neglecting the needs of our veterans, Ross said on Friday. The recent report from the inspector general of the VA also confirmed the mismanagement. While we appreciate Sec. Shinseki's service as a veteran himself, we can't overlook these serious issues that have continued under his tenure.
"I'm hopeful that new leadership will mean new practices that will always place the needs of our heroes first, Ross said. We need to have a thorough investigation of the VA's egregious actions to make sure that our veterans always receive the timely and quality care that they deserve."
Ross wasn't alone in the Florida delegation to want further action.
I have believed from the beginning of this crisis that personnel changes would be required and I respect the secretary's decision," said U.S. Rep. David Jolly. R-Fla. "However, today's resignation does not bring an end to this crisis, but it does provide an opportunity for the president to demonstrate his commitment to swiftly eliminate the medical waiting lists now. I'm encouraged by the administration's comments today about quickly addressing the wait time issue and I renew my call for the president of the United States to remain personally engaged in this matter until every veteran has received the timely care they have earned and should expect"
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org