Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told a veterans group Friday that he's removing the senior leadership of a Phoenix medical facility at the center of a weeks-long scandal at his agency.
With his job hanging in the balance, Shinseki made the announcement barely an hour before he is set to visit the White House to brief President Barack Obama on the preliminary results of his review into wait-times at the Phoenix hospital as well as a broader audit of the entire VA health system.
In an interview with ABC hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan which aired Friday, Obama said he plans on having a “serious conversation” with Shinseki about whether the VA chief can remain in his post. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Thursday tied Shinseki’s future to the results of the reviews into the agencies.
The agency’s inspector general released a preliminary report into the Phoenix facility on Wednesday finding that 1,700 veterans were improperly left off the wait list to get medical care, possibly in connection with trying to doctor wait times. The VA's IG is also reviewing 41 other VA facilities for similar activities. Shinseki told the homeless veterans organization Friday that he will announce the results of the VA-wide audit in the coming days while apologizing for the debacle surrounding his agency.
"Given the facts I now know, I apologize as the senior leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs," Shinseki told the group. "I cannot explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our health care facilities. This is something I rarely encountered during 38 years in uniform. And so I will not defend it, because it is indefensible, but I can take responsibility for it and I do."
Shinseki also called on Congress to pass a version of a bill granting him additional authorities to remove underperforming executives from the VA. He added that no senior executive of the Veterans Health Administration will receive a performance bonus this year, and announced that he is ending the process of including VA wait times in the calculation of executive bonuses.
More than 100 members of Congress, including more than two dozen vulnerable Democratic lawmakers, have called for Shinseki's firing. On Thursday, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Israel added his name to the list of Democrats calling on Obama to replace Shinseki.