Secretary Eric Shinseki isn’t ready to call it quits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs just yet.
“I serve at the pleasure of the president,” Shinseki told NBC News on Wednesday in an interview defending his record. “I offer my condolences to these families for anyone who’s lost a veteran, any unexpected death in one of our facilities.”
“This is a good, quality health care system,” he added. “Not perfect, and when across our imperfections we’re going to do something about it, we get to the bottom of it and to the best of our abilities assure it will never happen again.”
Resisting the mounting pressure built up by congressional Republicans and major veterans groups to condemn Shinseki’s leadership, the Disabled American Veterans said Wednesday it would not be calling for his resignation – at least not yet. “I am calling on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to answer not just the public allegations but also some fundamental questions about the entire VA health care system,” executive director Garry Augustine said in a statement Wednesday.
The department is under intense scrutiny after whistleblowers alleged that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for primary health care at the VA hospital system in Phoenix. The opponents charge that officials secretly kept two sets of books – one with falsified appointment lists that dramatically downplayed patient wait times, while another kept track of the real wait times.
The VA’s inspector general (IG) and the House Committee on Veterans Affairs are already investigating the claims. Shinseki told The Wall Street Journal that he is “sensitive to the allegations” and that he will wait for the IG to complete the investigation before moving forward.
White House officials and some top leaders in Congress warn the calls for Shinseki’s resignation may be premature.
“The president remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the department and take appropriate action,” Carney reiterated during a White House briefing Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Shinseki “is a fine man, a dedicated patriot.”
On Monday, the American Legion, with more than 2.4 million members strong in 1,400 posts around the world, became the first major group to call for Shinseki to step down. Joining it was the group Concerned Veterans for America and a handful of Republican lawmakers already dissatisfied with how the department is supporting America’s veterans.
“It’s not something we do lightly. But we do so today because it is our responsibility as advocate for the men and women who have worn this nation’s uniform,” said Daniel M. Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion.