President Obama today announced that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned, saying Shinseki himself had come to the conclusion that he could no longer function effectively.
Speaking at the White House, Obama said that the resignation was based on “Rick’s judgement” and Shinseki’s belief that he would be a distraction:
He has worked hard to investigate and identify the problems with access to care, but as he told me this morning, the VA needs new leadership to address them.
He does 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. That was Ric’s judgment on behalf of his fellow veterans. And I agree. We don’t have time for distractions; we need to fix the problem.
Obama seemed to minimize Shinseki’s culpability, saying Shinseki was “offended” information about the problems at the VA didn’t get up the chain of command to the secretary.
I think he is deeply disappointed in the fact that bad news did not get to him and that the structures weren’t in place for him to identify this problem quickly and fix it.
But Obama was also careful to gently lay some of the blame on Shinseki:
This morning I think some of you also heard Ric take a truly remarkable action. In public remarks, he took responsibility for the conduct of those facilities and apologized to his fellow veterans and to the American people. And a few minutes ago, Secretary Shinseki offered me his own recognition. With considerable regret, I accept it.
Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson will take over as acting secretary, said Obama, who indicated someone else would be brought in as a permanent replacement.
Obama acknowledged that as president he bears responsibility, and then he immediately seemed to pass the buck, noting the VA’s problems predated him, saying he’d done much to help the agency, and blaming others for not bringing the issue to his or Shinseki’s attention.
This predates my presidency. When I was in the Senate, I was on the Veterans Affairs Committee. I heard first-hand veterans who were not getting the kinds of services and benefits that they had earned . . .
And so, what I can say confidently is that this has been a priority. It’s been a priority reflected in my budget, and that in terms of managing the VA, where we have seen a problem — where we have been aware of a problem, we have gone after it and fixed it and have been able to make significant progress.
But what is absolutely clear is, this one — this issue of scheduling is one that the reporting systems inside of the VHA did not surface to the level where Rick (sp) was aware of it we were able to see it. This was not something that we were hearing when I was traveling around the country, the particular issue of scheduling.
Obama said changes will be needed at the VA, including a change of culture. But his focus seemed to be on throwing more money at the place, not a wholesale reform in the way veterans get their healthcare, as is being suggested by some Republicans.
“We may need to get more doctors and we may need to get more nurses,” Obama said.