Late Friday morning, President Obama announced that he’d accepted the resignation of retired four-star general and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. Over the past few days, calls for Shinseki to step down have grown louder, as Democrats have joined with Republicans asking for Shinseki to resign or for the President to remove him from the position. More and more Congressional Democrats released statements asking Shinseki to resign after the VA’s inspector general released a damning report on the state of care that veterans are receiving at VA hospitals.
The report was commissioned after news broke that veterans were suffering through excessively long wait times at a VA hospital in Phoenix, AZ. It was discovered that some veterans died while waiting on an appointment, while the VA’s internal report showed that the average wait time for veterans’ first appointment at the hospital was 115 days. The report showed that a number of other hospitals were making veterans deal with long wait times on appointments and that management was covering up the excessive wait times by providing fraudulent statistics.
Rather than become a distraction, Shinseki decided on Friday to step down so that the VA can move on with fixing the systemic issues within the department. He was obviously aware that by sticking around in the position he’s held for over five years, he would be the central focus of the media and those on Capitol Hill. The best decision right now for Shinseki was to step aside and allow new leadership to take over.
The President displayed gratitude and admiration for Shinseki and his many years of service to his country in his remarks on Friday:
Secretary Shinseki offered me his own resignation. And with considerable regret, I accepted.
Ric Shinseki has served his country with honor for nearly 50 years. He did two tours of combat in Vietnam. He’s a veteran who left a part of himself on the battlefield. He rose to command the 1st Cavalry Division, served as Army chief of staff, and has never been afraid to speak truth to power.
As secretary of the V.A., he presided over record investments in our veterans, enrolling 2 million new veterans in health care and delivering disability pay to more Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, making it easier for veterans with post-traumatic stress, mental health issues and traumatic brain injury to get treatment, improving care for our women veterans.
At the same time, he helped reduce veteran homelessness and helped more than 1 million veterans, servicemembers and their families pursue their education under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
So Ric’s commitment to our veterans is unquestioned. His service to our country is exemplary. I am grateful for his service, as are many veterans across the country. He has worked hard to investigate and identify the problems with access to care.
But as he told me this morning, the V.A. needs new leadership to address them. He does not want to be a distraction because his priority is to fix the problem and make sure our vets are getting the care that they need. That was Ric’s judgment on behalf of his fellow veterans.
With Shinseki out as Secretary, we should now be able to move on and fix the VA and make it work as it should for the millions of veterans who have served this nation. Also, I believe that this has been yet another costly and sobering lesson about the cost of war. If, as a nation, you decide to engage in two wars at the same time, and those wars last years and costs thousands of American lives and send back tens of thousands of injured soldiers in need of constant medical care, then you better be prepared to greatly expand the services that those soldiers will need.