Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday amid the continuing scandal over wait times for veterans seeking health care, President Barack Obama announced Friday.
"He offered me his resignation and with considerable regret I accepted," Obama said.
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 announced Friday that he had accepted Shinseki's resignation. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
After standing by Shinseki during the first weeks of reports that waiting list times were doctored and veterans in some cases died as a result of delayed care, Obama said it was time for him to go.
"It was Rick's judgment he could not carry out the next stages of reform without being a distraction," Obama said. "It was my assessment he was right."
Obama said VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson will step in as acting department secretary. He has been with the department just three months.
"I said we will not tolerate misconduct and we will not," the president said. "I said we need to do better and we will."
Speaking to all veterans, Obama vowed: "We will never stop working to do right by you or your families."
Shinseki apologized for the problems in a speech Friday morning, before going to the White House for a previously unscheduled Oval Office meeting with the president. The 10:15 a.m. meeting between Obama and Shinseki was not on the original White House schedule, but was announced shortly before 9 a.m.
White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors has been assisting Shinseki in an internal review, which was provided to Obama during the morning meeting. Similar to the VA inspector general report released this week, the review found the problems to be nationwide and not limited to a VA facility in Phoenix.
In a statement after Obama's announcement, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus said while he was "eager to see the president finally engaging on this issue, this has never been about a single person or a single resignation."
"We now know that thousands of veterans haven't gotten the treatment they were owed, languished on false wait lists, and were simply denied access to care when it was inconvenient—all so this administration could pretend they were reducing wait times. We also know those within the president's administration were rewarded—given thousands of taxpayer dollars in bonuses—and that the administration has known about issues at the VA for years," Preibus said. “Regardless of who the president wants running his department, it’s past time for the president to step up and fix this mess. He can start by calling on [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid and his Senate Democrats to pass the bipartisan bill for accountability at the VA."
“Until then, personnel changes aren't an answer to the problem for our veterans. It’s just musical chairs,” Priebus said.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney would not answer directly whether Obama still had confidence in Shinseki, even as a growing number of both Democratic and Republican members of Congress were calling for Shinseki to resign.
The pressure intensified this week after the VA inspector general's report stated 1,700 veterans were waiting for appointments at the Phoenix medical facility, but were not listed on the official waiting list. It also found that some veterans had to wait for 115 days to get an appointment. The report did not address reports of whether 40 veterans have died waiting for care.
The department has always had problems, said Darin Selnick, who served as special assistant to the VA secretary during the George W. Bush administration, but he blamed Shinseki for making it worse.
"There has always been a customer service problem and a problem with bureaucracy, but if you have a good secretary and good under secretary, people will know you mean business," Selnick told TheBlaze. "It won't be an epidemic and part of the culture. We've seen this pattern with Shinseki and political employees run fast and loose and employees become resentful."
This post has been updated.