President Barack Obama said today that he “will not stand for” any cover-ups of backlogs in care at Veterans Affairs hospitals, and that anyone implicated in that in an investigation underway “will be punished.”
“When I hear any allegations of misconduct… cooking the books, I will not stand for it,” Obama told reporters. “If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful and I will not tolerate it, period.”
The president and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired four-star general who has declared himself “mad as hell” about the backlogs and reported cover-ups at the beleaguered agency, met privately at the White House this morning before Obama emerged to make a West Wing statement.
An inspector general already is investigating allegations of misconduct at a few hospitals, and the president said today that Shinseki will be making a review of VA facilities “across the nation.” The results of that are promised next week.
“The most searing moments of my presidency have been going to Walter Reed or Bethesda or Bagram and meeting troops who have left part of themselves on the battlefield,” Obama said. “They’ve done their duty and they ask nothing more than that this country does ours, that we uphold our sacred trust to all who have served.”
Obama, who has committed additional spending to an agency with a history of mismanagement, said today: “We are going to keep it at until we reduce the backlog once and for all.”
The White House also signaled today that Shinseki will continue to serve as secretary — as some have called for his firing. Obama has assigned a White House adviser, Rob Nabors, to work with Shinseki on the problem.
“We are going to fix whatever is wrong,” the president said.
“Ric Shinseki has been a great soldier,” Obama said. “If you ask me, how has Ric Shinseki performed overall… he has put his heart and soul into this and he has taken it very seriously…. I want to see what the result of these reports are, and there is going to be accountability.”
Has Shinseki offered to resign? Obama didn’t answer this.
“Ric Shinseki serves this country because he cares deeply about veterans,” Obama said. “I know that Ric’s attitude is, that if he doesn’t think he can do a good job,” he will not want to continue.
The president essentially left the question open to the outcome of a continuing investigation. “I don’t yet know how systemic this is, I don’t yet know if there a lot of facilities that have been cooking the books, or if this has been just an episodic problem.”