WASHINGTON (AP) — Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday in a personal meeting with President Barack Obama, shortly after publicly apologizing for deep problems plaguing the agency’s health care system that Obama called “totally unacceptable.”
Obama said he accepted the retired four-star general’s resignation “with considerable regret” during an Oval Office meeting. Shinseki had been facing mounting calls to step down from lawmakers in both parties since a scathing internal report out Wednesday found broad and deep-seated problems in the sprawling health care system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.
Obama said Shinseki had served with honor, but the secretary told him the agency needs new leadership and he doesn’t want to be a distraction. “I agree. We don’t have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem,” Obama said.
The president named Sloan D. Gibson, currently the deputy VA secretary, to run the department on an interim basis while he searches for another secretary. The president said he met with Gibson after accepting the resignation from Shinseki, who has overseen the VA since the start of Obama’s presidency.
A career banker, Gibson has held the No. 2 post at the department since February of this year. He came to the department after serving as president and chief executive officer of the USO, a nonprofit organization that provides programs and services to U.S. troops and their families, and after a 20-year career in banking.
Gibson is the son of an Army Air Corpsman who served in World War II and grandson of a World War I Army Infantryman.
Obama said an audit submitted by Shinseki shows that the problems are not limited to a few facilities but to many across the country. “It is totally unacceptable,” Obama said. “Our vets deserve the best; they’ve earned it.”
Obama said Shinseki had begun the process of firing people and had canceled performance bonuses. The president said it would be up to the Justice Department to determine whether there was any criminal wrongdoing at the VA.
In a speech earlier Friday to a veterans group, Shinseki said the problems outlined in the report were “totally unacceptable” and a “breach of trust” that he found indefensible. He announced he would take a series of steps to respond, including ousting senior officials at the troubled Phoenix health care facility, the initial focus of the investigation.
He concurred with the report’s conclusion that the problems extended throughout the VA’s 1,700 health care facilities nationwide, and said that “I was too trusting of some” in the VA system.