President Obama announced the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki Friday, vowing to take full responsibility for the increasingly widespread scandal engulfing the VA’s health services. Within seconds of taking responsibility, however, the President made sure to assert that the problems “predate my presidency.”
“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,” the President said to the White House Press Corps this afternoon. The assertion that the VA scandal was an ongoing cultural problem within the institution followed declaration that he would “always take responsibility for whatever happens,” particularly with regard to Veterans Affairs.
In the same announcement, President Obama noted that it was “with considerable regret” that he accepted Secretary Shinseki’s resignation. He took the time to commend Shinseki’s work within the agency. “Under his leadership, we have seen more progress on more fronts at the VA and a bigger investment in the VA than just about any other VA secretary,” the President asserted, adding that “Ric’s commitment to our veterans is unquestioned. His service to our country is exemplary.” Shinseki himself, he said, had begun the process of mass firings in agencies with considerable problems throughout the country.
President Obama emphasized the Shinseki’s resignation did not have to do with his ability to run the organization, but his potential to become “a distraction,” blaming “Congress and you guys [the media]” for the situation in which Shinseki, who oversaw the agency as the scandal developed, cannot keep his job.
Shinseki himself apologized for the situation this morning but did not announce his resignation. “I said when this situation began weeks to months ago that I thought the problem was limited and isolated because I believed that,” he said in a conference this morning, “I no longer believe it. It is systemic.” He blamed himself for being “too trusting” and extended 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.”
Shinseki’s apology followed the release of an investigation that found that VA officials nationwide had written false record information to mask the fact that many veterans were being forced to wait unreasonable amounts of time to receive medical care from the agency. The Washington Post describes the fabrications as “elaborate schemes to hide long waiting times date back as far as 2010.”