President Obama said Wednesday he “will not stand” for misconduct and mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but defended his VA chief as dedicated to fixing the troubled the agency.
Secretary Eric K. Shinseki has “been a great public servant and a great warrior” and has put “his heart and soul” into improving care for veterans, addressing homelessness and reducing long backlogs for services, Obama said.
Critics have been calling for Shinseki’s resignation in the wake of complaints that VA medical facilities have concealed long waits for healthcare. Obama said he would wait to see the results of internal investigations before holding officials at accountable.
“I will not stand for it, not as commander in chief, but also not as an American. None of us should,” Obama told reporters at the White House in a lengthy statement that followed a private meeting with Shinseki. “So if these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period.”
The investigation has expanded to 26 VA sites, the agency's inspector general’s office confirmed Wednesday. The office, which previously identified VA facilities in Phoenix, San Antonio and Fort Collins, Colo., as the subject of its review, declined to identify the new sites.
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors will be flying to the VA facility in Phoenix, which has been accused of maintaining secret waiting lists to hide delays in treating veterans.
Later Wednesday, the House is to vote on legislation that would give the VA secretary new authority to fire senior employees. The proposed VA Management Accountability Act has Republican and Democratic co-sponsors and the support of veterans groups.
Richard J. Griffin, the VA’s acting inspector general, told a Senate committee last week that he expects to have the findings of his investigation ready in August. He also said his review could lead to criminal charges.
Griffin told lawmakers last week that his investigators were examining whether the Phoenix facility’s waiting list “purposefully omitted the names of veterans waiting for care, and if so, at whose direction” and whether any veterans’ deaths were related to delays in care.
He also said he had expanded his review in response to reports of manipulated waiting times at other VA facilities from the inspector general’s hotline, members of Congress and the media, noting his investigators had responded to 10 new allegations that arose after reports of abuses at the Phoenix VA facility.