Facing a growing outcry over the scandal at Veterans Affairs medical facilities, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki offered his resignation to President Obama on Friday, and the president accepted the offer.
"A few minutes ago, Secretary Shinseki offered me his own resignation," the president said in a statement in the White House briefing room. "With considerable regret, I accepted."
Obama said Shinseki had served the country "honorably," but the two of them agreed that his continued stewardship of the VA would be too great a distraction as the embattled agency seeks to fix its problems.
The president named Sloan Gibson as acting VA secretary until a successor to Shinseki is confirmed by the Senate. Gibson was previously the deputy secretary of veterans affairs.
A preliminary report from the VA's inspector general released Wednesday found "systemic" problems at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., confirming the growing reports of misconduct and lengthy wait times that had been reported for several weeks. Among other bouts of misconduct, VA officials at the facility falsified waiting lists to understate the amount of time veterans had been waiting for health care. Several dozen deaths have been linked to the delays in treatment.
The president said Friday that an initial review by Shinseki determined the "misconduct has not been limited to a few VA facilities, but many across the country," a situation he called "totally unacceptable."
"Our veterans deserve the best," Mr. Obama said. "They've earned it."
Shinseki had faced mounting calls for his resignation since the VA hospital scandal caught fire last month. The majority of early calls for the secretary to step down came from Republicans, but after Wednesday's interim report, the dam began to break among Democrats as well. As of Friday morning, 13 Senate Democrats had called for Shinseki to step down, all but three of them up for reelection in 2014. Several Democratic Senate candidates running in red states have also called for the secretary to resign.
Congressman Doug Lamborn (CO-R) released a statement immediately after the resignation was announced.
“I am pleased that Eric Shinseki has made the right decision and resigned as VA Secretary. However, we must remember that there is still a lot of work to do to get to the bottom of the horrendous behavior that has been uncovered at VA facilities across the country. While accountability starts at the top, anyone at any level who knew of these waiting lists must be fired immediately. Our job is not over – we must fix the VA system. Today, I joined colleagues in Colorado and Wyoming in introducing legislation to make sure that bonuses are not paid out to senior VA leadership until wait time backlogs have been eliminated. These and other like-minded efforts must continue if we are going to once-and-for-all fix our veterans health care system and provide a service that honors their sacrifice.”