President Obama today said he "will not stand" for misconduct at the Veterans Affairs Department and vowed that those responsible for allegedly covering up long delays in veteran care would be held accountable if the charges prove to be true.
“It is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period,” Obama told reporters at the White House.
The president’s comments came just moments after he met in the Oval Office with embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to receive an update on the allegations and investigation. They were joined by Rob Nabors, Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff, who has been assigned to assist with the review of the agency.
The president announced he expects preliminary results of Shinseki and Nabors’ review next week.
“I know that people are angry and want swift reckoning. I sympathize with that. But we have to let the investigators do their job and get to the bottom of what happened. Our veterans deserve to know the facts. Their families deserve to know the facts. Once we know the facts, I assure you if there is misconduct it will be punished,” the president said.
Obama also announced that Nabors will conduct a broader review of the Veterans Health Administration, the part of the VA that delivers health care to veterans. That full report is expected to be completed next month.
The VA Inspector General has said that, so far, there is no evidence linking deaths to wait times. “I think it is important to recognize that the wait times generally -- what the IG indicated so far, at least, is the wait times were folks who may have had chronic conditions, were seeking their next appointment, but may have already received service. It was not necessarily a situation where they were calling for emergency services. And the IG indicated that he did not see a link between the wait and them actually dying,” Obama said.
Obama’s hastily announced statement in the briefing room comes several weeks after allegations first dominated national headlines that up to 40 veterans died while waiting for treatment at a VA hospital. Whistleblowers have alleged that a Phoenix VA hospital cooked their books to hide long delay times.
“Keep in mind, though, even if we had not heard reports out of this Phoenix facility or other facilities, we all know that it often takes too long for veterans to get the care that they need. That's not a new development. It's been a problem for decades, and it's been compounded by more than a decade of war,” the president noted.
Throughout the controversy, the White House has maintained that the president has full confidence in Shinseki.
“The responsibility for things always rests ultimately with me as the president and commander in chief,” Obama said. “Ric Shinseki has been a great soldier. He himself is a disabled veteran, and nobody cares more about our veterans than Ric Shinseki.”
“But I have said to Ric, and I said it to him today, I want to see, you know, what the results of these reports are, and there is going to be accountability,” he added.
The president urged lawmakers to work together on this issue. “It is important that our veterans don't become another political football, especially when so many of them are receiving care right now,” he cautioned.
The president made clear that, despite the current controversy, “there are millions of veterans who are getting really good service from the VA, who are getting really good treatment from the VA.”
“I don't want us to lose sight of the fact that there are a lot of folks in the VA who are doing a really good job and working really hard at it,” he said.