Embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki Resigns
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Good morning, let's hear more now about the resignation of Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. President Obama says he accepted that resignation a short time ago at the White House. He had just finished making a statement after the two men held a short private meeting. The President Shinseki's resignation has been accepted partly for political reasons, in that he says it would be politically difficult for Shinseki to focus on the questions at hand for the VA.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If we need more money, how much more money do we need to ask from Congress and how am I going to make sure that the Congress delivers on that additional funding? That's what I want somebody at the VA focused on. Not how are they getting second guessed, speculation about their futures and so forth and so on. And that is what Rick agreed to as well.
INSKEEP: President Obama speaking just a few minutes ago at the White House saying that he accepted Shinseki's resignation quote "with considerable regret". Now NPR's Quil Lawrence covers Veterans Affairs and has been following this story. He's on the line and he's been listening to the president, and Quil what stood out for you?
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Well, that clip you just played were President Obama was essentially saying that this was a political issue, that it was becoming too much of a distraction. He said that Shinseki 's record of management and his achievements were very impressive. He went on to list them, 24% reduction homelessness, cutting down the backlog, several other things. But he said, the President said we also have to deal with Congress and with you. He was saying essentially that this was something that happened in Washington and not as much related to Shinseki's record of management at the VA.
INSKEEP: He even manage to say he still trusted Shinseki. He said that he was accepting Shinseki's resignation because of quote Rick's judgment, speaking of him on a first name basis and saying he accepted his own judgment.
LAWRENCE: Exactly and Shinseki had made a speech just a couple of hours earlier this morning, where he said he took all the responsibility for this. He said that he had not been aware of the extent of the problem with wait times and specifically VA clinics that were lying about how fast they were seeing veterans. Now this is a curious one because there have been 18 reports by the veterans, by the Inspector General of the VA detailing this problem since 2005, and it does show something of a disconnect, I can say, traveling around the country, and talking to veterans, the information coming out of the VA about seeing patients within 14 days, that never squared with what we were hearing on the ground.
INSKEEP: Meaning that this is not news to people who have been dealing with the VA over the years.
LAWRENCE: It's not news, But that should also be noted that it has been going on for 10 years. So it has been going on for five or six VA secretaries. The question of whether Shinseki was the right person to try and fix the problem, well that has now been settled by the president.
INSKEEP: OK, so Shinseki's resignation has been accepted. There was referenced by the President to begin the process of firing senior leaders at the Phoenix VA, which is where the scandal first erupted, were we first heard about it anyway, performance bonuses for many people have been canceled. What does this mean now for the direction of Veterans Affairs?
LAWRENCE: Well that's the question, there is an acting director will step in, Sloan Gibson, President Obama said he is going to start the search, it's going to be hard to find someone who wants to serve out the rest of President Obama's turn, take on issues other people haven't been able to crack, in decades at the VA and veterans I would say even though they were maybe turning against Eric Shinseki in popular opinion, they'll be wondering who is going to come in the now and whether they will be able to take on these problems.
INSKEEP: Can I just mention briefly, this is a difficult thing for a Democratic President to do because Shinseki as a general became a hero to many Democrats. He was a serving general who was perceived anyway as having lost his job because he spoke forthrightly about the pending cost of the Iraq war that was on the way at the time
LAWRENCE: And many other things, but he was losing support among Democrats recently including a former employee of his Representative Tammy Duckworth, who is a wounded Iraq vet and she actually came out just this morning saying that her old boss should step down.
INSKEEP: Quil thanks very much.
LAWRENCE: Thank you Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence talking with us this morning after Eric Shinseki resigned as head of Veterans Affairs.