President Obama announced this morning that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned.
Shinseki, a retired U.S. Army general, held the post since January 2009, but calls for his resignation have been coming in recently over widespread allegations of VA mismanagement, including allegations from a retired VA doctor in Phoenix that 40 veterans died while waiting for care.
Although Obama has voiced support for Shinseki in recent weeks, he said at a press conference this morning that it was Shinseki's decision to resign.
Obama said his resignation was based on "his belief that he would be a distraction from the task at hand."
Organizations like the American Legion have been calling for Shinseki's removal for weeks. More recently, a growing number of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have been calling for his resignation, especially in light of the VA inspector general's interim report on the scheduling practices at the VA health care system in Phoenix, and other locations around the country.
The interim report does not answer the question of whether 40 veterans died on various VA waiting lists, as a retired doctor has alleged, but the inspector general found about 1,700 veterans waiting to see a doctor who are "at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix HCS's convoluted scheduling process."
"Our reviews have identified multiple types of scheduling practices that are not in compliance with VHA policy," the report states. "Since the multiple lists we found were something other than the official [electronic waiting list], these additional lists may be the basis for allegations of creating 'secret' wait lists."
More specifically, from the report:
To review the new patient wait times for primary care in FY 2013, we reviewed a statistical sample of 226 Phoenix HCS appointments. VA national data, which was reported by Phoenix HCS, showed these 226 veterans waited on average 24 days for their first primary care appointment and only 43 percent waited more than 14 days. However, our review showed these 226 veterans waited on average 115 days for their first primary care appointment with approximately 84 percent waiting more than 14 days. At this time, we believe that most of the waiting time discrepancies occurred because of delays between the veteran's requested appointment date and the date the appointment was created. However, we found that in at least 25 percent of the 226 appointments reviewed, evidence, in veterans' medical records, indicates that these veterans received some level of care in the Phoenix HCS, such as treatment in the emergency room, walk in clinics, or mental health clinics.
The Deputy VA Secretary, Sloan Gibson, will become the acting secretary, while a search is on for a permanent replacement.
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Earlier this morning, Shinseki gave a speech to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. According to a copy of his speech provided by the VA, Shinseki said he's "initiated the process for the removal of the senior leaders at the Phoenix VA Medical Center" in response to the inspector general's interim report. Phoenix VA health care director Sharon Helman and two other employees had previously been placed on leave.
He also said no Veterans Health Administration senior executive will receive any type of bonus this year, and each of the 1,700 veterans at Phoenix who were at risk of being forgotten in the scheduling system will be contacted "to bring them the care they need and deserve."
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