President Barack Obama today announced he has accepted the resignation of embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson will take the helm of VA on an interim basis until a permanent replacement for Shinseki is found, Obama said. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, dispatched by Obama to investigate VA’s scheduling process, will continue in his investigative role during the transition period, Obama said.
Shinseki “believed he would be a distraction from the task at hand,” Obama said. “My assessment was unfortunately that he was right.”
Obama said it was important to have somebody leading VA who was not constantly distracted by the political and media fallout from the current scheduling scandal, which the president emphasized predates his administration.
“I want somebody at the VA who is not spending time outside of solving problems for the veterans,” Obama said. “Not how are they getting second-guessed and speculation about their future.”
Obama, however, praised Shinseki for his accomplishments during his tenure at VA, noting his work on helping end homelessness for veterans.
“He is a very good man,” Obama said. “He’s a good person who’s done exemplary work on our behalf. We’ve seen more progress at VA under Shinseki than under any other VA secretary.”
The announcement came just hours after Shinseki announced the removal of senior managers from leadership positions at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix for their role in the ongoing informal wait list scandal that may have led to the untimely deaths of some veterans.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said Shinseki was an honorable man let down by corrupt employees.
“Unfortunately, Shinseki’s tenure at the Department of Veterans Affairs will forever be tainted by a pervasive lack of accountability among poorly performing VA employees and managers, apparent widespread corruption among medical center officials and an unparalleled lack of transparency with Congress, the public and the press,” Miller said in a statement.
A FedScoop investigation uncovered significant problems with VA’s main electronic health record and scheduling system that security officials at the agency acknowledged could have allowed anonymous users to access patient health data and manipulate scheduling data without being detected.
Obama said the IT systems throughout the Veterans Health Administration “are probably going to have to be changed” and that such an effort “will cost some money and take some time.”
Initial reports from Nabor’s investigation have found “computer systems for scheduling that date back to the 1990s,” Obama said. And “situations in which [VA schedulers are] manually passing a request for an appointment over to somebody else.”
But the president also alluded to the need to change the culture within VHA.