May 30 (Bloomberg) -- Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned from his post after revelations of widespread failings in the health care system for military veterans.
President Barack Obama said he accepted Shinseki’s resignation this morning after the retired general delivering an interim review of of the VA system that found misconduct was not limited to a few facilities and was instead widespread.
While lauding Shinseki’s service in the military and at the VA, Obama said the department wouldn’t be able to fix the system while the secretary was under fire from lawmakers and veterans groups.
See also: Obama outraged by veterans hospitals conduct
Shinseki concluded “that he could not carry out the next stages of reform without being a distraction himself,” Obama said at the White House. “And my assessment was that, unfortunately, he was right.”
He said VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson would take over on an interim basis.
An increasing number of lawmakers from both parties had begun calling for Shinseki’s ouster amid revelations of mismanagement, treatment delays and falsified records at the department, the U.S.’s largest health-care system.
The drumbeat of allegations escalated May 28 when an inspector general’s report found some VA hospitals kept phony waiting lists to hide health care delays. Richard Griffin, the department’s acting inspector general, found in a review of 42 VA medical facilities repeated instances of altered waiting lists.
Griffin said investigators at the Phoenix VA facility found as many as 1,700 veterans were “at risk of being lost or forgotten” when that hospital left them off an official list of patients waiting to see a doctor.
There was evidence of double bookkeeping -- two sets of lists showing how long veterans had to wait to see a doctor. The average wait was 115 days to see a doctor, not a bogus list that showed 24 days, Griffin’s report said. Some 40 veterans may have died while awaiting care in Phoenix.
At least 11 Senate Democrats joined with Republican lawmakers in calling for Shinseki to resign, as have dozens of House lawmakers, including Representatives Steve Israel of New York, the top Democrat in charge of U.S. House campaigns, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a former VA official who lost her legs while serving in combat in Iraq.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, said he’s drafting legislation that would require care be offered outside the VA system to veterans who waited at least 30 days for a medical appointment. The proposal has support from House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
See also: Obama summons Shinseki over VA scandal
Shinseki spoke to a veterans group earlier today where he apologized for the lapses and said he had moved to fire Phoenix veterans’ hospital leaders
“Leadership and integrity problems can and must be fixed now,” Shinseki said at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ conference in Washington.
He said there will be no performance bonuses for senior VA health officials this year and that waiting times will no longer factor into their reviews. Bonuses encouraged hospital officials to manipulate wait lists, lawmakers and VA officials have said.
The VA is contacting each of the Phoenix veterans on the secret list “to bring them the care they need,” Shinseki said. Shinseki called on Congress to approve a bill making it easier for him to fire senior VA officials, and to fill vacant leadership positions in the department.
“VA has a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity with some of our veterans health facilities,” Shinseki said. “That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible and unacceptable to me.”
Shinseki, a native of Hawaii like the president, is a former U.S. Army chief of staff. He earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam. He left the military with the rank of four-star general.
Gibson, who was confirmed in February, is a former chief executive officer for the United Services Organization, the USO, which provides aid to servicemembers. He retired in 2004 from Birmingham, Alabama-based AmSouth Bancorporation, where he served as vice chairman and chief financial officer.