President Barack Obama says he will have a “serious conversation” with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki about his ability to deal with the current problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Obama is scheduled to meet with Shinseki Friday morning in the Oval Office, where the White House said the president will “receive an update on the situation at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”“I’ll have a serious conversation with him about whether he thinks that he is prepared and has the capacity to take on the job of fixing it, because I don’t want any veteran to not be getting the kind of services that they deserve,” Obama said during an interview that aired Friday on ABC’s “LIVE with Kelly and Michael.”
The VA is under fire over allegations that VA hospitals in Phoenix, Ariz., used secret lists to conceal wait times for primary care that surpassed the maximum 14-day period. Now, 26 facilities are part of a larger review nationwide.
The president admitted to the department having problems with back logs in the past, but said veterans are content once they are in the programs.
“There’s just a lot of inefficiency,” he told hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan.
“I think this administration, I can honestly say, has – in very specific, measurable terms – done more, or as much, for our veterans as any administration in history,” he added.
A bipartisan group of more than 100 members of Congress have called for Shinseki’s ouster, and the embattled secretary has pledged to fix lags in care and help veterans hurt by improper scheduling practices in Phoenix. Obama has said that anyone found to be “cooking the books” at the VA will be punished.
The VA’s Office of the Inspector General released its interim report on Wednesday that confirmed veterans’ care was negatively affected by what it called a “convoluted” and improper scheduling system.
Shinseki addressed former service members on Friday at the annual National Coalition for Homeless Veterans conference, where he apologized for the “systemic totally unacceptable lack of integrity” in scheduling appointments for veterans at VA facilities. He said that the results of the nationwide audit of all VA facilities will be finished soon, and he said he would punish those responsible for problems in Phoenix.
“Given the facts I now know, I apologize as the senior leader of the Department of VA. I extend the apology of the people I care most deeply about – the veterans of this country and their families and loved ones that I have been honored to serve,” he said.