President Announces Shenseki Resignation Over VA Healthcare Problems

President Obama announced Friday morning, May 30, 2014, that he has accepted the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired U.S. Army four-star general who has overseen the VA since the beginning of Obama’s presidency.  Some lawmakers have been calling for Shinseki’s resignation in recent days, due to problems over healthcare access and extensive wait times that reportedly led to veterans’ deaths in the Phoenix VA healthcare system and other VA facilities.

The president praised Secretary Shinseki’s accomplishments and his service to veterans over the years, and pledged to move forward to fix the problems within the VA healthcare system.

A portion of the president’s statement follows:

“Good morning, everybody.  A few minutes ago, Secretary Shinseki and Rob Nabors, who I’ve temporarily assigned to work with the VA, presented me with the department’s initial review of VA facilities nationwide.   And what they’ve found is that the misconduct has not been limited to a few VA facilities, but many across the country.  That’s totally unacceptable.  Our veterans deserve the best.  They’ve earned it.  Last week, I said that if we found misconduct, it would be punished.  And I meant it. 

Secretary Shinseki has now begun the process of firing many of the people responsible, including senior leaders at the Phoenix VA.  He’s canceled any possible performance bonuses this year for VHA senior executives.  And he has ordered the VA to personally contact every veteran in Phoenix waiting for appointments to get them the care that they need and that they deserve. 

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 resignation.  With considerable regret, I accepted.

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. 

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.

So Ric’s commitment to our veterans is unquestioned.  His service to our country is exemplary.  I am grateful for his service, as are many veterans across the country.  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.

For now, the leader that will help move us forward is Sloan Gibson, who will take on the reins as Acting Secretary.  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.  His grandfather fought on the front lines of World War I.  His father was a tail-gunner 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.  I’ve also asked Rob Nabors to stay at the VA temporarily to help Sloan and the department through this transition, and to complete his own review of the VHA.  In the meantime, we’re going to look diligently for a new permanent VA Secretary and we hope to confirm that successor and fill that post as soon as possible. …”

(Source: The White House, Office of the Press Secretary.)

Pres. Obama also pledged to “do right by our veterans across the board, as long as it takes,” and referred to active servicemembers, veterans and military spouses as “the best that our country has to offer.”  The full transcript of his statement, including resulting questions and answers, is available on the White House Briefing Room page.