President Barack Obama announced Friday that he has accepted Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation.
“This morning I think some of you also heard Rick take a truly remarkable action. In public remarks he took responsibility for the conduct of those facilities and apologized to his fellow veterans and to the American people,” Obama said in a statement from the White House briefing room. “And a few minutes ago he offered me his own resignation. With considerable regret, I accepted.”
Obama said he was grateful for Shinseki’s service and explained that the VA secretary told him that new leadership needed to address the agency’s systemic problems with access to care.
“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 they need. That was Rick’s judgment on behalf of his fellow veterans. And I agree,” he said. “We don’t have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem.”
Sloan Gibson, the deputy VA secretary, will take over as acting secretary of the agency, Obama said.
The VA’s internal watchdog released a report this week that found systemic problems with veterans’ access to care. The investigation found there was an average wait time of 115 days for a veteran’s first appointment at a Phoenix facility and that 1,700 veterans were left off official waiting lists at the same hospital.
Pressure mounted on Shinseki to resign in the wake of that report. A number of congressional Republicans and Democrats, including Iraq War veteran Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), called for him to step down.
Since Obama had originally rejected former Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ offer to resign over the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, one reporter asked the President if accepting Shinseki’s resignation amounted to scapegoating.
“Well, the distractions that Rick refers to in part are political,” he acknowledged. “At this stage what I want is somebody at the VA who is not spending time outside of solving problems for the veterans.”
“In each instance, my primary decision is based on how can I deliver service to the American people — and in this case how can I deliver for our veterans,” he later added. “And because they are people of integrity, I think in both the cases of Secretary Sebelius, but certainly in the case here of Rick Shinseki, they have the same priority. Their view is, what is it that’s going to best deliver on behalf of the folks, who as Rick said this morning, have been let down.”
This post has been updated.