Moving quickly to get ahead of the growing scandal about deaths and waiting lists at Veterans Affairs hospitals, President Obama today showed his anger over the allegations, calling them “a disgrace.”
While he declined to say that he would be seeking the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Obama vowed to root out anyone responsible.
“If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is a disgrace and I will not tolerate it. Period,” Obama said during a hastily called press conference at the White House, according to the Huffington Post. “I will not stand for it. Not as commander in chief, but also not as an American. None of us should.”
The VA’s inspector general announced yesterday that his office is investigating charges that misconduct has occurred at 26 facilities around the country, including a Phoenix hospital where 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for care and staff rigged record-keeping to cover up long wait times.
While insisting that anyone found to have manipulated or falsified records at a VA facility “will be punished,” the president urged patience as the investigation proceeds.
“I know people are angry and want swift action. I sympathize with that,” he said, noting that some VA facility staff have already been put on administrative leave. “But we have to let investigators do their job. The families deserve to know the facts.”
Republicans have been eager to use the scandal to show the Obama administration’s incompetency.
“While I am glad that after many weeks of refusing to acknowledge this widening scandal, President Obama finally saw fit to speak about it today, but his remarks are wholly insufficient in addressing the fundamental, systemic problems plaguing our veterans’ health care system,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement.
Obama said his administration has been focused on veterans issues since long before the scandal broke.
“Taking care of veterans of their families has been one of the causes of my presidency,” he pointed out.
“Nobody cares about our veterans more than Rick Shinseki,” Obama said. “He has been a great public servant and a great warrior on behalf of the United States of America. We’re going to work with him to solve the problem.”
Asked if he would seek Shinseki’s resignation, Obama said, “Rick’s attitude is that, if he doesn’t think he can do a good job on this and if he thinks he’s let our veterans down, then I’m sure that he’s not going to be interested in continuing to serve.”
“At this stage, Rick is committed to solving the problem.”
The president said the responsibility for the scandal lies with him as commander in chief.
Drew Griffin, the CNN reporter who broke the VA story, said he was “a little confused by the president’s remarks today. At the same time he was saying he’s known about this problem for years and years and years and it goes back decades, far past into other people’s presidencies, and yet we’re five years into his presidency and the problem seems to be certainly not better and perhaps even worse.”
“I hate to be curt, but these GAO reports, these Office of Inspector General reports, these memos dating back to 2010 and 2008 — this problem is real,” Griffin said. “It exists. It really doesn’t have to be studied as to what’s going on. The government has done its job studying these issues. And to say that you’re going to now wait for yet again more studies to come back and more fact-finding to come back, I would think that the vets I’ve been talking to wanted much more direct action of what actually is going to happen going forward, instead of, ‘Wait and see and then we’ll decide what’s going to happen going forward.’”