President Obama announces that he has accepted the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki during a press conference in the Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC on May 30, 2014. Shinseki had earlier apologized to all veterans for the delays in health care. UPI/Olivier Douliery/Pool | License Photo
WASHINGTON, May 30 (UPI) -- President Obama announced that he had accepted the resignation of embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki after they met at the White House Friday morning.
"A few minutes ago Sec. Shinseki offered his own resignation," the president said. "And with considerable regret, I accepted."
Obama said Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson will take over as acting secretary, and he hopes to select and confirm Shinseki's replacement "as soon as possible." The president said he asked White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors to stay on at the VA and help Gibson through the transition.
The president insisted that Shinseki resigned of his own accord, and in fact, "Ric's judgment" was what convinced him to install new leadership.
"I am grateful for his service, as are many veterans around the country," Obama said. "But he doesn't want to be a distraction, and I agree, we don't have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem."
The American Legion, the veterans' group that had led the call for Shinseki to resign after a whisteblower revealed a Phoenix VA hospital had been keeping veterans on secret wait lists to disguise their long wait times before appointments, called Shinseki's resignation "a beginning."
"It was never just about a few of the top leaders," said American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger. "The solution is to weed out the incompetence and corruption within the VHA and the VBA so the dedicated employees can continue to perform admirably on behalf of our nation's veterans."
Most involved agree that Shinseki's resignation will do little to reach the problems of mismanagement, but a preliminary inspector general's report released Wednesday exposing widespread problems throughout the VHA made his staying on untenable. The report found the Phoenix VA had kept 1,700 veterans waiting for an appointment on a secret list to keep official wait times down, forcing veterans to wait 115 days on average for care.
Shinseki said Friday morning that he had thought the problem had been isolated to individual incidents, but said he was deceived by his deputies.
"I can't explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders in our healthcare facilities," he said. "This is something I rarely encountered during 38 years in uniform."
In addition to any internal efforts, Congress has moved on several pieces of legislation aimed at expediting reforms at the VA.
House VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., introduced legislation to allow the secretary to fire senior staff, freeze bonuses, and allow veterans to seek care from private healthcare providers if they are forced to wait more than 30 days.