Eric Shinseki Out As Secretary Of Veterans Affairs
Eric Shinseki resigned as Secretary of Veterans Affairs this morning, to the surprise of absolutely nobody.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, President Obama announced this morning that he had accepted the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki in the wake of the widening scandal involving the V.A.’s health care system:
WASHINGTON — Eric Shinseki resigned as secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department Friday after meeting face-to-face with President Obama about mounting evidence of widespread misconduct and mismanagement at the agency’s vast network of medical facilities.
In a statement Friday morning after the meeting, Mr. Obama said that Mr. Shinseki had offered his resignation from the post he has held since the beginning of the president’s administration. “With regret, I accepted,” Mr. Obama said.
“He has worked hard to investigate and identify the problem,” the president said, adding that Mr. Shinseki told him that “the V.A. needs new leadership to address it. He does not want to be a distraction.”
Mr. Shinseki, 71, had said for weeks that he wanted to stay in his job to confront accusations that officials at the department’s hospitals had manipulated waiting lists to cover up long delays in scheduling appointments for thousands of veterans.
In a speech Friday morning to a veterans group, he apologized and described his agency as having “a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity.” He vowed to fix what he called a “breach of integrity” and said he had already initiated the firing of top managers at the V.A. medical center in Phoenix, where allegations of mismanagement first surfaced.
But his contrition and promises of action came too late to save his job.
In an interview for the “Live With Kelly and Michael” show that aired before he met with Mr. Shinseki, Mr. Obama said he was preparing for a “serious conversation” with his cabinet secretary about “whether he thinks that he is prepared and has the capacity to take on the job of fixing it.” The meeting took place Friday morning in the Oval Office.
A preliminary report released Wednesday by the department’s inspector general corroborated many of the most disturbing accusations and offered a grim portrait of widespread mismanagement at the medical center in Phoenix. The report said investigators were finding similar problems at other veterans hospitals around the country.
“Our reviews have identified multiple types of scheduling practices that are not in compliance with VHA policy,” the report’s investigators wrote, adding that “inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic” across the system.
President Obama said last week that he would wait for the results of several investigations into the hospital allegations before taking any action to hold Mr. Shinseki or other officials accountable. And until this week, several top lawmakers in both parties said they continued to have confidence in Mr. Shinseki to remain in charge.
But that support from Capitol Hill began to crumble Wednesday evening as lawmakers digested the inspector general’s report. Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Vietnam veteran and a Republican defender of Mr. Shinseki’s, called for him to resign, and several Democratic lawmakers became the first to break ranks and also demand his departure.
“After seeing the report released today, I believe Secretary Shinseki should step down,” Representative Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat from New Hampshire, said in a statement late Wednesday. “We need new management at the V.A. to lean hard on wrongdoers and clean house wherever necessary.”
Like many in Congress, Ms. Shea-Porter described Mr. Shinseki as “a great man and a war hero,” and thanked him for his service. A Vietnam veteran who lost part of a foot after stepping on a land mine during combat, Mr. Shinseki rose to become a general and the chief of staff for the Army.
But the quiet and reserved officer who had made many friends among members of Congress appeared to have run out of time as the hospital scandal dragged on.
As I stated earlier this week, it was clear that Shinseki’s days were numbered long before he walked into the Oval Office this morning. While there is no evidence, and no suggestion, that Shinseki was personally aware of the secret waiting lists and other abuses that have been discovered at the VA hospital in Phoenix and the problems that were evident elsewhere in the country, it happened under his watch and the fact that he was apparently unaware it was happening at all casts his abilities as an executive in a bad light. He also fell fall short of implementing the reforms to the health care system that were being talked about when he took office, and indeed long before them. President Obama was correct to point out that Shinseki did accomplish many good things in his time at the department, but this is a major failure that is likely to only get worse when more information comes out. More importantly, though, Shinseki was doomed because he lost the confidence of Congress. By the end of the day yesterday, it appeared as though there were more Democrats calling for him to step down than there were Republicans, meaning that nobody on Capitol Hill was going to protect him from the inevitable firestorm he would face in the future if he stayed. We got a preview of that Wednesday night during an unusual late night session of the House Veterans Affairs Committee where Members of Congress on both sides were being very harsh in the criticism and questioning of the Veterans Affairs Department witnesses before them. If Shinseki had not voluntarily stepped aside, President Obama would have eventually had to do so himself, and that would have been an unfortunate end to a career that began in the Army some 50 years ago.
I was somewhat surprised that the President didn’t have a successor ready to name today when he announced Shinseki’s resignation. The end game in this affair was self-evident at least a week ago if not longer, and one has to assume that advisers in the West Wing had begun the process of talking about potential replacements even before that. Having a successor to name at the same time that you’re announcing a resignation that came about as a result of an embarressing and potentially political damaging scandal seems like it would be the politically smart thing to do. Of course, given that it’s a Friday it’s possible that the White House decided that it would be better to announce a replacement in a separate event on a day other than one that is, as The West Wing famously put it, ‘Take Out The Trash Day.’ For the time being, the agency will be run by Shinseki’s chief deputy and, no doubt, everyone will be paying attention.
Inevitably, of course, speculation will soon turn to who might replace Shinseki for the remainder of President’s term. While the Department of Veterans Affairs isn’t exactly a high profile position in the Cabinet, the appointment of its Secretary has typically been politically important due to the strength of the various veterans organizations in Washington and, of course, the veterans’ vote. Since the department was established during the George H.W. Bush Administration, every single appointed Secretary of Veterans Affairs (not including those who have served as Acting Secretary for short periods following a resignation) has had some military service experience. One presumes that the White House will want to continue with this tradition. Additionally, given the nature of the current scandal it would seem that someone with a relatively high profile that could make it through the Senate easily would be the ideal candidate. That is admittedly not a very long list. Some of the names I’ve heard mentioned as potential replacements, such as former Senator John Warner or Colin Powell, might not be the right fit because of their age. Others, such as David Petraeus, have too much baggage from previous positions to make an appointment viable. One name that might have some potential is former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who briefly served as Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, although that appointment didn’t go so well when he butted heads with the White House because he didn’t think they were expanding the Navy fast enough. Webb served in Vietnam and has long worked on veterans issues even when he wasn’t in public office. Whether he’d be willing to take the job is another question entirely. Another possibility is Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, an injured Iraq War vet who worked at the agency before running for Congress, and winning, in 2012. It strikes me, though, that whoever the nominee is, it will have to be someone with a credible record of executive experience. I’m not sure Duckworth fits that requirements. In any case, I suspect that we won’t have to wait too long for the announcement of a nominee.
As I said earlier why would he even want the thankless job anymore. As a 4 star general he has a comfortable retirement so why be on the front lines for a system that has been broken for decades.
Shinsheki likely was unaware of the fraudulent lists but this is a situation where it isn’t going to fly as an excuse.
Various VAs were faking wait lists to hide the fact that people weren’t getting to see doctors in a timely manner.
As for a replacement-somebody with a CEO-clean them up and clean them out background might be best.
Any employee aware or or involved in the fraudulent lists needs to be fired and the new admin needs to spearhead ideas for making it better.
Shinsheki is the fall guy but sometimes there has to be a fall guy to get something done.
If anyone thinks that Shinseki’s removal will end the controversy, they’re mistaken. VA is what’s called a “valence issue”. Those are motherhood and apple issues. The two parties don’t disagree as to whether veterans should be supported they just compete as to who supports them more.
Shinseki out may slow things down but it won’t end anything.
The last VA bill was championed by Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The law, supported by President Obama and Sec. Shineski, would have specifically set aside money to attract and hire qualified health professionals and to alleviate backlog at the VA among other veterans benefits. Of course, the bill was blocked by Republicans — led by tea partiers in the House and by Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama in the Senate.
This is all on video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk5ZJ6uVO9Y
Republicans block VA benefits, then blame Obama when the VA doesn’t work. Just like they cut embassy security over Hillary’s objections, then blamed her when lax security led to Benghazi. Voters need to get rid of Republicans so we can properly fund our priorities and make government work again, but how to convince them to do that? Who knows.
He should have given all the VA employees black berets.
I think this writer gets it right:
WTF does one have to do to get fired from this administration?
A couple of comments: The VA is much more than health care administration, there are education benefits, disability payments, home loans, cemeteries,etc. Who was in charge of the health care side and what has happened to him/her?
What exactly does any one foresee to be changes to be made? The current crisis is basically that of hiding the dirt under rug. The first order of business is to make everyone see the reality.
Systemic improvements take a long time.
There will be no real improvements without resources.
Will there be any committment to providing those improvements?
There can be no improvements until someone competent understands there are problems. The issue is not so much the disasterous service this department was delivering BUT THAT THEIR MANAGER HAD NO IDEA THAT IT WAS EVEN HAPPENING. He should have been sacked for incompetence.
“Mr. Griffin said that similar kinds of manipulation to hide long and possibly growing waiting times were “systemic throughout” the sprawling Veterans Affairs health care system, with its 150 medical centers serving eight million veterans each year. The inspector general’s office is reviewing practices at 42 Veterans Affairs medical facilities.”
Obama should have just led off the press conference with “Shinsecki, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
Maybe it should be more like the Reagan administration, where you more or less had to get dragged off to prison…
@edmondo: I realize that you are so blinded by ideology that you make yourself stupid, but that this level no one who isn’t accused of a felony (at least) is “fired.” They are “allowed” to resign.
To everyone in the world who hasn’t decided he has to act like a moron in order to score political points, this is indeed getting fired.
Yeah, except Reagan never ran on “Change you can believe in.”
We all knew Ronnie was just following orders. What’s Obama’s excuse?
No, Reagan won on “Morning in America” – how does that jibe with one of the most corrupt administrations in history?
At any rate, Shinseki is out, so what’s your problem? He’s gone, you whine about it. If he was still in, you would whine about that.
Grown men should not whine. Are you a grown man?
OK he got fired. Good. Obama took too long, but it’s done.
It’s what happens now that is important because firing Shinseki isn’t going to fix anything.
This is a problem that has been going on forever and has everyone’s fingerprints on it.
And given that…I’m going to remember Shinseki for being the one who told the truth about the plans to invade Iraq and put to the lie to the Bush Administration bull$hit predictions about weeks and no troops and no money and cheap oil.
I heard an interesting suggestion earlier — Obama should take his time in finding Shinseki’s replacement. Just tell his deputy that he’s going to have the duties for a while, so get his ass in gear. This gets someone who, theoretically, has some good knowledge of the system and the problem working on it right now. It also gives Obama time to find someone that can get Senate approval.
Another suggestion was to forget the “veterans only” policy and put someone in charge of the hospitals who actually has worked in running hospitals, whether or not they ever served.
The major problem here is that these corrupt practices were systemic, not merely “some rogue people in Cincinnati,” to coin a phrase. There needs to be MAJOR housecleaning in the VA, and I’m talking wholesale firings of administrators and staff. As the saying goes, “personnel is policy,” and the surest way to show that certain things are not acceptable is to demonstrate that they will not be accepted.
Oh, and Doug, I know you focus almost exclusively on Republicans who say stupid things, but Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL) declared that, after extensive investigation, there are NO problems with the VA in Florida. You wanna make an exception for her?
@Jenos Idanian #13:
I hear Kathleen Sebelius is available. She is supposed to be a whiz at providing healthcare.
I’ll just copy and paste from WR above:
Florack was here yesterday groaning about how the VA was swimming in money and the Government is incompetent.
So here’s the facts…which of course contradict Florack’s claims.
Ask Shirley (?) Sherrod
I think the guy in charge while his subordinates are essentially committing fraud probably needs for his head to roll even if he wasn’t aware of what was happening.
This isn’t just a matter of “Gee the wait times are too long and we need more funding” but a matter of employees creating fake lists to hide the wait times so they could get bonuses. People weren’t just waiting a long time-they weren’t even getting their names on the wait lists.
Also lost in this is the fact that the VA also had some issues with being unable to account for money spent on conferences and other things unrelated to medical care delivery.
Either way-just leaving everthing in place and saying it’s going to get better is an empty promise. People need to lose their jobs and not just the guy who was about to retire and the guy who resigned today (and I am pretty much willing to bet Obama asked for that resignation).
@Jenos Idanian #13: Here comes little Jenos, once again demanding random and wholesale firings. Don’t know who’s good or bad? Fire them all, says little Jenos. “Wholesale firings!” — sure, that’s the way to do it!
Because the one thing Jenos craves is to see anyone who has ever accomplished anything in his or her life dragged down to Jenos’ level.
As I mentioned the other day, there were so many iconic disasters in the Bush administration that our friends on the right have spent years trying to invent “Obama’s Katriana” or “Obama’s Iraq”
@wr: Here comes little Jenos, once again demanding random and wholesale firings.
I don’t think I’ve EVER seen you miss a chance to prove yourself a waste of skin and felony oxygen thief.
You stuck the word “random” into my statement, not me. I said no such thing, and your implication that I did is loathsome and contemptible. (In other words, par for the course for you.)
In this context, “wholesale” meant every single person in the line of authority wherever such fraud was committed. Find the people who faked the lists, fire them, and fire every single person above them in their chain of command to the top administrator of that hospital. I don’t care if the supervisors knew about the fraud or not; it was their responsibility to know and prevent it.
As I said, what happened is utterly unacceptable, and therefore cannot be accepted.
Yes, Shinseki should get credit for that.
On the other hand, I’m going to remember him for his fervent advocacy (while Chief of Staff of the Army) for the “Future Combat Systems”, the most expensive scam ever perpetrated on the taxpayer by the defense department. The Army said it would ‘only’ cost about $180 billion; the OSD independent cost estimate was $300 billion. In fact, it was vaporware, and never had any chance of delivering any capability worth buying. The Army spent about $50 billion on it before it finally got cancelled. That understates the damage it did, though, because in addition to that $50B down the toilet, the FCS program’s expense also prevented the Army from modernizing the rest of the force. Which is why we’re still depending on 1970’s armored vehicle designs for our primary ground forces.
@Jenos Idanian #13:
Just wanted to say, Jenos, thanks for an entirely reasonable, thoughtful, and well-considered comment. I don’t disagree with anything you said.
Invade Iraq. Lose New Orleans to a hurricane. Be asleep on the job when the largest terrorist attack in American history destroys the Twin Towers. Crash the world economy.
General Shinseki is a person with an impeccable record and we appreciate his service to this country. He got into a huge situation involving a massive agency and bureaucracy. It will take a long time and lots of different leaders before things really get turned around.
One solution would be to appoint a committee of veterans, doctors, hospital administrators, insurance analysts, and logistics experts (Disney, Boeing, HP, General Electric, Warner), Coca-Cola) to study the VA and recommend practical changes (sorry, politicians can sit this one out).
I am not one to always hit the privatize button.
@Jenos Idanian #13: Keep stamping your little feet, dear. Maybe if you hold your breath really long, someone will someday respond to one of your “demands.”
Oh, wait, that’s wrong. If you could ever actually have any impact on the world, you wouldn’t spend your time trolling. Sorry!
Who was fired from the Bush admin when 3000 Americans were murdered in the heart of New York City? Who resigned?
Rice said that “no one could have foreseen planes being used like this” – total BS, Tom Clancy foresaw it, in a bestseller, no less.
@anjin-san: Hey, annie, in the interest of conservation (the senseless waste of pixels), I’ve invented a couple of hashtags you can use to express your two most common ejaculations in these discussions.
#NABAB! Not As Bad As Bush. You can use this whenever there’s yet another scandal surrounding Obama, and you want to remind everyone that Dubya Was The Worst President EVAR, and since Obama is at least marginally Not As Bad, we all should just shut up and thank our lucky stars we are so blessed with his not-quite-the-worst-EVARness.
#BBIS! But… But.. Iraq! Squirrel! Since Iraq was The Worst Thing EVAR, anyone who EVAR supported the war should just shut up and go away, and be glad they haven’t been strung up for war crimes. The sitting vice-president and the last two Secretaries of State, all hand-picked by Obama, excluded, of course, as well as all the other Democrats who supported it at some point or other.
But back on topic (I realize that’s anathema to you, annie, but I’m just insensitive that way), Shinseki had five years to uncover this scandal and failed. So he had to go. Next up is to get rid of those who actually committed this fraud, and those who either knew about it and tolerated it, or didn’t know about it despite it being their job to know about it.
This will be a hell of a challenge, as the entrenched bureaucracy has tremendous powers to protect itself, but it’s Obama’s responsibility to deal with it. It goes with the job — the one he said he was the best man for, twice.
Why would anyone tak a job that has such massive problems and that they will only have two years to fix them? Why would someone give up a seat in Congress for a two year thankless job?
The civil servants in the VA know that they can run out the clock on who ever will be the next Secretary. Two years is not enough time to fix the problems no matter how much money Congress throws at the issue.
@anjin-san: “Rice said that “no one could have foreseen planes being used like this” – total BS, Tom Clancy foresaw it, in a bestseller, no less.”
Hey, I foresaw it, too. Used it in the second season finale of “Martial Law.”
Clancy borrowed widely from many sources, most of them better writers than he was. I first came across the idea of hijacked passenger liners aimed at the White House (with nerve gas too, as I recall) in one of Adam Hall’s “Quiller” novels, probably written in the 70’s. Still my favorite spy series of all time.
Just ordered “The Quiller Memorandum”, always looking for good spy stuff, particularly cold war & WW2. Are you familiar with Charles McCarry? Recently discovered his work, which dates from the 70s & is worth checking out.
I did not have any luck finding Martial Law on Netflix or Amazon streaming. Never saw it, but I remember the buzz on the show was pretty good.
Actually, McCarry, in his novel The Better Angels, came up with a very similar plane idea long before Clancy…
So it seems that quite a few people foresaw the possibility of planes as weapons. So much outrage from the right over changed talking point
so littleno outrage over this:
Always good to start at the beginning, though that’s not the best of them IMHO. It will also help if you remember the Cold War; I’m not sure younger readers would feel the context as viscerally. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.