Shinseki resigns amid veterans' health care issues

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Shinseki resigns amid veterans' health care issues
Bob Brown, an 87-year-old World War II veteran from Perry Kan., speaks with U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, left, and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, right, during their visit to the Colmery-O'Neil Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Friday, June 13, 2014, in Topeka, Kan. Some Kansas veterans can't get medical appointments at U.S. Veterans Affairs facilities and are having scheduled checkups canceled as the dates approach, the two members of the state's congressional delegation said after touring the in Topeka VA medical center. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
FILE - In this June 12, 2014 file photo, Charles Tipton, of Spiro, Okla., lies under a Trilogy Linear Accelerator as he waits for his radiation treatment to begin at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Oklahoma City. A top VA official told The Associated Press on Friday, June 13, that average wait times at many of the facilities are likely much shorter than what was shown by data released by Veterans Affairs officials earlier this week. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
FILE - In this June 12, 2014 file photo, Michael Storemski, right, of Harrah, Okla., talks with Dr. Christina Henson, left, following his treatment at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Thursday, June 12, 2014. A top VA official told The Associated Press on Friday, June 13, that average wait times at many of the facilities are likely much shorter than what was shown by data released by Veterans Affairs officials earlier this week. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
Randy Lazaro, right, of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, tries to help out Don Parker, second from left, and his World War II veteran father, Harley Parker, left, as they joined dozens of other veterans at a health care crisis center set up by the American Legion at the American Legion Post 1 hall, at a first-of-its-kind event for the nation's largest veterans group, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Phoenix. More than 57,000 new applicants have had to wait at least three months before their first appointments, while an additional 64,000 who enrolled for VA health care over the past decade have never been seen by a doctor, according to a VA audit released earlier this week. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
President Barack Obama listens to a reporter's question in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 30, 2014, where he made a statement following his meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki. The president said that Shinseki is resigning amid widespread troubles with veterans' health care. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki pauses as he speaks at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Friday, May 30, 2014, in Washington. President Barack Obama says he plans to have a "serious conversation" with Shinseki about whether he can stay in his job. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 30, 2014, following his meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki. The president said that Shinseki is resigning amid widespread troubles with veterans' health care. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki pauses while speaking at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Friday, May 30, 2014, in Washington. President Barack Obama says he plans to have a "serious conversation" with Shinseki about whether he can stay in his job. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama makes a statement in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 30, 2014, following his meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki. The president said that Shinseki is resigning amid widespread troubles with veterans' health care. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Lester Abele of Zanesville, Ohio, gives a thumbs up as Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki as he speaks at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in Washington, Friday, May 30, 2014. President Barack Obama says he plans to have a "serious conversation" with Shinseki about whether he can stay in his job. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki arrives to speak at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in Washington, Friday, May 30, 2014. Shinseki faces calls to resign from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress because of an escalating scandal about problems in the VA's nationwide health care system. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Travis Fugate, a member of the Kentucky National Guard who was blinded by an IED attack in Iraq, wipes his eyes as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 29, 2014, before the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations. The panel is examining inadequacies in the Veterans Administration's treatment of visually-impaired veterans. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki takes the stage before speaking at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Friday, May 30, 2014, in Washington. President Barack Obama says he plans to have a "serious conversation" with Shinseki about whether he can stay in his job. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki speaks at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in Washington, Friday, May 30, 2014. Shinseki faces calls to resign from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress because of an escalating scandal about problems in the VA's nationwide health care system. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki waits before he speaks at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in Washington, Friday, May 30, 2014. Shinseki faces calls to resign from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress because of an escalating scandal about problems in the VA's nationwide health care system. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki pauses as he speaks at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Friday, May 30, 2014, in Washington. President Barack Obama says he plans to have a "serious conversation" with Shinseki about whether he can stay in his job. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki leaves after speaking at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Friday, May 30, 2014, in Washington. President Barack Obama says he plans to have a "serious conversation" with Shinseki about whether he can stay in his job. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki speaks at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Friday, May 30, 2014, in Washington. President Barack Obama says he plans to have a "serious conversation" with Shinseki about whether he can stay in his job. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is seated before speaking at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Friday, May 30, 2014, in Washington. President Barack Obama says he plans to have a "serious conversation" with Shinseki about whether he can stay in his job. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Christine Allen, left, a 51-year-old former U.S. Army truck driver from Topeka, Kan., talks to U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, center, and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, right, during their visit to the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center Friday, June 13, 2014, in Topeka, Kan. Some Kansas veterans can't get medical appointments at U.S. Veterans Affairs facilities and are having scheduled checkups canceled as the dates approach, the two members of the state's congressional delegation said after touring the in Topeka VA medical center. Allen says she's not had problems getting appointments for VA services. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki waves as he arrives to speak at a meeting of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Friday, May 30, 2014, in Washington. President Barack Obama says he plans to have a "serious conversation" with Shinseki about whether he can stay in his job. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Graphic shows findings from IG report on Phoenix VA health care; 2c x 4 inches; 96.3 mm x 101 mm;
U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, of North Dakota, is flanked by Lavonne Liversage, right, director of the Fargo Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and hospital chief of staff Dr. Breton Weintraub during a meeting at the hospital with representatives with veterans groups on Thursday, May 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, tells reporters that he isn't quite ready to join other members of Congress who say Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki should resign in the wake of problems with the Veterans Affairs troubled health care system, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May, 29, 2014. Boehner said he's reserving judgment about the embattled secretary and that President Barack Obama needs to step up and show leadership on the issue. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Dr. Maureen McCarthy, deputy chief patient care services for the Veterans Health Administration, center, flanked by Dr. Mary Lawrence, deputy director of the VA's Vision Center of Excellence, right, and Lorraine Landfried, deputy chief information officer for product development in the Depart of Veterans Affairs Office of Information Technology, appears on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, My 29, 2014, before the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations as it examines inadequacies in the Veterans Administration treatment of visually-impaired veterans. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, tells reporters that he isn't quite ready to join other members of Congress who say Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki should resign in the wake of problems with the Veterans Affairs troubled health care system, Thursday, May 29, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Boehner said he's reserving judgment about the embattled secretary and that President Barack Obama needs to step up and show leadership on the issue. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The U.S. Capitol is illuminated under a misty sky late Wednesday evening, May 28, 2014, in Washington, as the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs met until midnight investigating allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at VA hospitals possibly leading to patient deaths. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Dr. Thomas Lynch, the assistant deputy under secretary for health for clinical operations at the Veterans Health Administration, testifies as the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hears about allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at VA hospitals possibly leading to patient deaths, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, questions witnesses from the Department of Veterans Affairs as the panel investigates allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at VA hospitals possibly leading to patient deaths, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., right, and Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., members of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, listen as officials from the the Department of Veterans Affairs testify about allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at Veterans Administration hospitals, possibly leading to patient deaths, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Dr. Thomas Lynch, the assistant deputy under secretary for health for clinical operations at the Veterans Health Administration, Joan Mooney, the assistant secretary for congressional and legislative affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Michael Huff, a congressional relations officer with the Department of Veterans Affairs, testify as the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hears from the three witnesses about allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at VA hospitals possibly leading to patient deaths, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Members of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., center, flanked by Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., right, and Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., left, listen as officials from the the Department of Veterans Affairs testify about allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at Veterans Administration hospitals, possibly leading to patient deaths, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, right, welcomes Dr. Thomas Lynch, left, the assistant deputy under secretary for health for clinical operations at the Veterans Health Administration, to testify as the committee hears about allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at VA hospitals possibly leading to patient deaths, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, holds a hearing about allegations of gross mismanagement and misconduct at VA hospitals possibly leading to patient deaths, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, walks to his office on Capitol Hill after internal investigators at the Veterans Affairs Department announced they had "substantiated serious conditions" at the Phoenix VA hospital, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Rep. Miller's committee holds a hearing later with three witnesses who have been subpoenaed to testify about medical care for veterans. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - This May 15, 2014 file photo shows Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. Veterans at the Phoenix veterans hospital waited on average 115 days for their first medical appointment _ 91 days longer than the hospital reported, the Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general said Wednesday. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., immediately called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Miller also said Attorney General Eric Holder should launch a criminal investigation into the VA. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
FILE - This May 14, 2014 file photo shows Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaking to reporters on Capitol in Washington. Veterans at the Phoenix veterans hospital waited on average 115 days for their first medical appointment _ 91 days longer than the hospital reported, the Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general said Wednesday. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and McCain, immediately called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Miller also said Attorney General Eric Holder should launch a criminal investigation into the VA. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - This May 15, 2014 file photo shows Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Department of Veterans Affairs says it will allow more veterans to obtain health care at private hospitals and clinics. Shinseki announced the change Saturday. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
Connie Olberg sits in her home in Sammamish, Wash., Wednesday, May 21, 2014, and holds a photo of her brother, Donald Douglass (in the photo at left), taken in the mid 1970s when he was serving in Germany in the U.S. Army. Douglass had a small spot on his forehead diagnosed as cancerous at the Seattle Veterans Affairs hospital in 2011, but according to his lawyer, the hospital's delay in removing it contributed to his death in 2012, a case that mirrors concerns being raised nationally about the VA health care system. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Connie Olberg walks in the backyard of her home in Sammamish, Wash., Wednesday, May 21, 2014, and carries a photo of her brother, Donald Douglass, after posing for a photo. Douglass, a U.S. Army veteran, had a small spot on his forehead diagnosed as cancerous at the Seattle Veterans Affairs hospital in 2011, but according to his lawyer, the hospital's delay in removing it contributed to his death in 2012, a case that mirrors concerns being raised nationally about the VA health care system. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
This photo from Saturday, May 17, 2014 shows the Department of Veterans Affairs in Phoenix. The Veterans Affairs Inspector General's office said late Tuesday, May 20, 2014, that 26 facilities are being investigated nationwide — up from 10 just last week — including a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for treatment and staff there kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide delays in care. (AP Photo/Matt York)
President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, following his meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Obama and Shinseki met Wednesday morning with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, who was assigned to oversee a review of the VA health care system in response to allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, following his meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Seeking to head off a growing furor over veterans' health care, President Barack Obama declared Wednesday that allegations of misconduct at Veterans Affairs hospitals are "dishonorable" and will be not be tolerated by his administration.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
In this May 15, 2014, photo, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki speaks with the news media on Capitol Hill in Washington. Shinseki would be granted more authority to fire or demote senior executives under a bill headed to the House floor. The measure comes as pressure builds on Capitol Hill to overhaul the beleaguered agency in response to allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 15, 2014, after testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to examine the state of Veterans Affairs health care. Facing calls to resign, Shinseki said Thursday that he hopes to have a preliminary report within three weeks on how widespread treatment delays and falsified patient scheduling reports are at VA facilities nationwide, following allegations that up to 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix VA center. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki listens to a reporters question while speaking with the news media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 15, 2014, after testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to examine the state of Veterans Affairs health care. Facing calls to resign, Shinseki said Thursday that he hopes to have a preliminary report within three weeks on how widespread treatment delays and falsified patient scheduling reports are at VA facilities nationwide, following allegations that up to 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix VA center. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 15, 2014, before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to examine the state of Veterans Affairs health care. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 15, 2014, prior to testify before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to examine the state of Veterans Affairs health care. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, left, and Veterans Affairs Undersecretary of Health Robert Petzel, MD, prepare to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 15, 2014, before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to examine the state of Veterans Affairs health care. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
FILE - Veteran Mark Howey waits to ask a question as Sen. John McCain speaks during a forum with veterans regarding lapses in care at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital, on Friday, May 9, 2014, in Phoenix. Grieving family members of dead veterans have joined politicians from both parties in loud protests over VA care. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Lillian "Bonnie" D'Amico, poses for a photograph while holding a photo of her son Nicholas D'Amico in El Paso, Texas, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Her son killed himself while waiting for a an appointment with a psychiatrist. Some Veterans Affairs facilities in Texas have among the longest wait-times in the nation for those trying to see a doctor for the first time, according to federal data released Monday. (AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca)
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By JULIE PACE and PAULINE JELINEK
Associated Press

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.

Obama Accepts VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's Resignation

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.

The VA has a goal of trying to give patients an appointment within 14 days of when they first seek care. Treatment delays - and irregularities in recording patient waiting times - have been documented in numerous reports from government and outside organizations for years and have been well-known to VA officials, member of Congress and veteran service organizations.

But the controversy now swirling around the VA stems from allegations that employees were keeping a secret waiting list at the Phoenix hospital - and that up to 40 patients may have died while awaiting care. A preliminary VA inspector general probe into the allegations found systemic falsification of appointment records at Phoenix and other locations but has not made a determination on whether any deaths are related to the delays.

The agency has been struggling to keep up with a huge demand for its services - some 9 million enrolled now compared to 8 million in 2008. The influx comes from returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, aging Vietnam War vets who now have more health problems, a move by Congress to expand the number of those eligible for care and the migration of veterans to the VA during the last recession after they lost their jobs or switched to the VA when their private insurance became more expensive.

Shinseki said the last several weeks have been "challenging" but that his agency takes caring for veterans seriously.

"I can't explain the lack of integrity," he told a homeless veterans group. "I will not defend it, because it is not defensible." The beleaguered Cabinet official received a standing ovation and loud applause.

An inspector general's report found that about 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off an official waiting list.

The report confirmed earlier allegations of excessive waiting times for care in Phoenix, with an average 115-day wait for a first appointment for those on the waiting list - nearly five times as long as the 24-day average the hospital had reported.

"This situation can be fixed," Shinseki told an audience of several hundred people from around the nation who have been working with the VA on helping homeless veterans. "Leadership and integrity problems can and must be fixed - and now."

He said the government would not give any performance bonuses this year, would use all authorities it has against those "who instigated or tolerated" the falsification of wait time records and that performance on achieving wait time targets will no longer be considered in employee job reviews. He also asked Congress to support a bill by Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., which would give the department more authority to remove senior government employees who are in leadership positions.

The House has passed a similar bill that would give the VA more ability to fire up to 450 senior executives at the agency.

Even as he said he agreed it was best for Shinseki to go, Obama sought to shield the outgoing secretary from being labeled a failure or accused of doing wrong by veterans. He credited Shinseki with reducing veteran homelessness, improving care for women and making progress on veterans' education and mental health treatment.

"I want to reiterate, he is a very good man," Obama said. "He's a good person who's done exemplary work on our behalf."

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Associated Press Writer Donna Cassata contributed to this story.

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