The job of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki may be on the line today as he meets with President Obama over the growing scandal, just a day after Shinseki apologized to veterans and lawmakers for the agency’s mismanagement of the VA hospitals.
“After Wednesday’s release of an interim inspector general report, we now know that VA has a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity within some of our veterans’ health facilities,” Shinseki said at a conference of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the New York Times reported.
“That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible and it is unacceptable to me,” he said. “I extend an apology to the people whom I care most deeply about — that’s the veterans of this great country, to their families and loved ones, who I have been honored to serve.”
But it’s not clear whether Shinseki’s contrition will be enough to save his job during the meeting scheduled for 10:15 a.m.
The president taped an interview for “Live with Kelly and Michael” in which he said he would have “a serious conversation” with Shinseki. Obama intimated that the secretary might lose his job as he confronts him with the reports of problems at the department.
Obama said he would ask him “whether he thinks that he is prepared and has the capacity to take on the job of fixing it.”
Last week the president said of the scandal, “If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is a disgrace and I will not tolerate it. Period. I will not stand for it. Not as commander in chief, but also not as an American. None of us should.”
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 VA’s inspector general announced last week 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.
At least 100 lawmakers have called on Shinseki to resign, putting considerable pressure on the president to make a move — though it took months for him to accept the resignation of former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after the disastrous launch of the Obamacare website.
Things were looking especially bad for Shinseki—a former Army chief of staff who lost half of his right foot to a land mine in Vietnam—considering the comments of one of his friends, Barry McCaffrey, the retired four-star Army general.
McCaffrey said yesterday that it was probably time for Shinseki to step down.
“If I was advising Ric as a friend, which I am, I would tell him to send over a two-line note to the president that says: ‘It’s been an honor to serve. I’m no longer viable. Goodbye,’ ” McCaffrey said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) curiously avoided the resignation question.
“The question I ask myself is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem, is it going to help us find out what’s really going on?” he said. “And the answer I keep coming to is no.”
Sergeant Major Jack Tilley, the highest-ranking enlisted soldier in the Army from 2000 through 2004 who served under Shinseki when he was the Army chief of staff, said, “I know leaders, and he’s probably the best leader I have ever worked with. He’s not one of these guys who jumps up and down and beats on his chest and says, ‘Look, what I’ve done!’ “