SINGAPORE – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Veterans Affairs’ inspector general’s interim report on the hospital in Phoenix where several veterans died waiting for care clearly indicated there were problems with the system, but he refrained from making a judgment or prediction about VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s future.
“It certainly gives us enough information to know that there are problems and they have to be addressed,” Hagel said of the report, speaking to reporters on board his flight from Alaska to Singapore.
But even as more Democrats join the chorus of members of Congress calling for Shinseki’s resignation, Hagel said he would leave the politics to others.
“I’m not going to get into Gen. Shinseki’s future,” he said, before offering praise, if not a defense, of the embattled secretary’s record.
“I would say that Gen Shinseki is a war veteran, disabled. Lost part of his foot in Vietnam. And I think he understands not just the systematic depth of all of this. That’s his job. And I’ll let him explain that.”
Hagel also commented on the apparent withdrawal of some Russian troops from the Ukrainian border.
“We do know that thousands of Russian troops have been pulled back and are moving away,” he said. “But we also know that there are still thousands of Russian troops still there that have not yet moved.”
A senior Defense official said earlier that there appeared to be seven battalions comprised of thousands of Russian soldiers that were still positioned on the border.
Hagel said Russia needed to follow up that move with more action.
“Any time you’re moving troops away and equipment and assets away, that’s promising. But they are not where they need to be and won’t be until all of their troops that they position along that border a couple of months ago are gone,” he said.