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Obama Demands Improvements at VA, but Doesn’t Fire Shinseki (Video)
Posted at 11:52 a.m. on May 21
Updated 2:07 p.m. | President Barack Obama is demanding that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki make immediate improvements for veterans, but has decided not to fire him, for now, as a scandal over allegations of manipulated wait time reports spreads to dozens of facilities.
“If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period,” Obama said in a statement in the White House briefing room, followed by a brief news conference.
Obama promised accountability and punishments for anyone found responsible for misconduct at VA facilities. And when asked about a possible Shinseki resignation, Obama said he wanted to see the reports come back on how widespread problems were at the department.
He said he expects a preliminary report back from Shinseki next week, and said White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors has been tasked with providing a broader report on VA health care next month.
Obama repeatedly referred to Shinseki as “Rick” — his nickname — and praised him as a veteran himself who has made improvements at the VA. But he stopped well short of a ringing endorsement.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney did not walk back the implication that Shinseki was on thin ice with Obama, saying that everyone in high office serves “at the pleasure of the president.”
Presumably the president is not experiencing a high state of “pleasure” regarding Shinseki at this point.
The president also continually referred to the unfolding scandal by saying “if” the allegations are true. The president repeatedly said that he needed to know what happened and “if” misconduct occurred.
“I know that people are angry and want swift reckoning. I sympathize with that. But we have to let the investigators do their job and get to the bottom of what happened. Our veterans deserve to know the facts. Their families deserve to know the facts. Once we know the facts, I assure you, if there is misconduct, it will be punished,” he said.
For now, it appears the president is still in the dark. Republicans piled on, suggesting Obama’s remarks were woefully short on action.
Two House Democrats from Georgia, John Barrow and David Scott, have joined a sizable group of Republicans who have called on Shinseki to resign.
“The first person we need to fire is the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Shinseki himself,” Scott said Wednesday.
In the meantime, Obama said he told Shinseki today to make immediate improvements in VA health care rather than waiting for the reports.
Obama and Carney both sought to draw a difference between what Obama called “decades” of problems with VA services, which Obama noted he campaigned to fix, and the allegations of “cooking the books.”
But regardless, Obama promised veterans he would fix whatever the problems are.
Scott Campbell contributed to this report.