Obama Comments on Veterans Care: 'Wait Times ... Are Too Long'

The president delivers remarks on the recent Veterans Affairs controversy involving delayed care.
22:41 | 05/21/14

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Transcript for Obama Comments on Veterans Care: 'Wait Times ... Are Too Long'
three and then checked it and went, . Good morning, we are interrupting your program. For many of you in the west, that is "Gma," because president Obama is about to speak about the growing controversy at the veterans administration. Allegations of mistreatment and misconduct in two dozen facilities across the country. Enduring extremely long waits for care and falsified records. At the V.A. Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, it is alleged at least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments. The president met with Eric shinseki who's under fire calling for his resignation. White house officials say not to expect that in this announcement. Reporter: That's right. There will be no personnel announcements here. Nothing from the president suggesting a leadership shakeup at the veterans affairs department. Excuse me, George. I'll take it right back. As you say, no resignations expected right now. The president dispatched one of his AIDS, rob anyway bonabors, to oversee this, and the inspector general is reviewing this. The director of the FBI was on capitol hill saying that no one asked the FBI to get involved in any kind of a criminal investigation yet. The president is coming into the briefing room right now. Good morning, everybody. I just met with secretary shinseki and rob Nabors who I temporarily assigned to work with secretary shin sand the V.A. We looked at the misconduct at the veterans affairs facility and the broader mission of caring for our veterans and their families. As commander in chief, I have the honor of standing with our men and women in uniform at every step of their service. From the moment they take their oath to when our troops to prepare to deploy to afghanist Afghanistan, where they put their lives on the line for security, and to their bedside, fighting to recover from terrible Juris. The most searing moments of my presidency have been going to Walter reed or bethesda, or bagram, and meeting troops who have left a part of the themselves on the battle field. And their spirit and their determination to recover and often to serve again is always an inspiration. So these men and women and their families are the best that our country has to offer. They've done their duty. And they ask nothing more than that this country does ours. That we uphold our sacred trust to all who have served. So when I hear allegations of misconduct, any misconduct, whether it's allegations of V.A. Staff covering up long wait times, or cooking the books, I will not stand for it. Not as commander in chief, but also not as an American. None of us should. So if these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period. Here's what I discussed with secretary shinseki this morning. First, anybody found to have manipulated or falsified records at V.A. Facilities has to be held accountable. The inspector general at the V.A. Launched investigations into the Phoenix V.A. And other facilities. And some individuals have already been put on administrative leave. 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. Second, I want to know the full scope of this problem. And that's why I ordered secretary shinseki to investigate. Today he updated me on his review, which is looking not just at the Phoenix facility, but also V.A. Facilities across the nation. And I expect preliminary results from that review next week. Third, I directed rob Nabors to conduct a broader review of the veterans health investigation. The part of the V.A. That delivers health care to our veterans. And rob is going to Phoenix today. 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. That's why when I came into office, I said we would systemically work to fix these problems, and we have been working really hard to address them. My attitude is, for folks who have been fighting on the battle field, they should not have to fight a bureaucracy at home to get the care that they've earned. So the presumption has always been, we have to do better. And rob's review will be a compromise look at the veteran's health administration's approach currently to access to care. I want to know what's working. I want to know what is not working. And I want specific recommendations on how V.A. Can up their game. And I expect that full report from rob next month. Number four, I said that I expect everyone involved to work with congress, which has an important oversight role to play. And I welcome congress as a partner in our efforts. Not just to address the current controversies, but to make sure we're doing right by our veterans across the board. I served on the veteran's affairs committee when I was in the senate, and it was one of the proudest pieces of business that I did in the legislature. And I know the folks over there care deeply bout our veterans. It is important that our veterans don't become another political football. Especially when so many of them are receiving care right now. This is an area where democrats and republicans should always be working together. Which brings me to my final point. Even as we get to the bottom of what happened at Phoenix and other facilities, all of us, whether here in Washington or all across the country, have to stay focused on the larger mission, which is upholding our sacred trust to all of our veterans. Bringing the V.A. System into the 21st century, which is not an easy task. We had made progress over the last five years. We've made historic investments in our veterans. We've boosted V.A. Funding to record levels. And we created consistency through advanced appropriations so that veterans organizations knew their money would be there regardless of political wrangling in Washington. We made V.A. Benefits available to more than 2 million veterans who did not have it before. Delivering disability pay to more Vietnam vets exposed to agent Orange. Making it easier for veterans are post-traumatic stress and brain injury to get treatment. And improving care for women veterans. Because of these step and the influx of new veterans requiring services, added in many cases to wait times, we launched an all-out war on the disability claims backlog. And in just the past year alone, we've slashed that backlog by half. Of course, we're not going to let up. Because it's still too high. We're going to keep at it until we eliminate the backlog once and for all. Meanwhile, we're all reducing homelessness among our veterans. We're helping veterans and their families, more than a million so far, pursue their education under the post-9/11 gi bill. And we are stepping up efforts to get skills and training to find jobs when they get home. And along with Michelle and Jill Biden joining forces, we have helped hundreds of thousands find a job. More are finding work, and veterans unemployment, although still way too high, is coming down. The point is caring for our veterans is not an issue that popped up in recent weeks. Some of the problems with respect to how veterans are able to access the benefits that they've earned, that's not a new issue, that's an issue that I was working on when I was running for the United States senate. Taking care of our veterans and their families has been one of the causes of my presidency, and it is something that all of us have to be involved with and have to be paying attention to. We ended the war in Iraq, and as our war in Afghanistan ends, and as our newest veterans are coming home, the demands on the V.A. Are going to grow. So we're going to have to redouble our efforts to get it right as a nation. And we have to be honest that there are and will continue to be areas where we have to do a lot better. So today I want every veteran to know, we are going to fix whatever is wrong and so long as I have the privilege of serving as commander in chief, I am going to keep on fighting to deliver the care and the benefits and the opportunities that your families deserve. Now, and for kadecades to come. That is a commitment to which I feel a sacred duty to maintain. So with that, I'm going to take two questions. I'm going to take Jim Cuban at A.P. First of all. Thank you, Mr. President. As you said, this is a cause of your presidency. You ran on this issue, you mentioned it, why was it allowed to get to this stage where you actually had potentially 40 veterans who died while waiting for treatment? That's an extreme circumstance. Why could it get to that point? We have to find out what exactly happened. I don't want to get ahead of the report or the other investigations that are being done. And I think it is important to recognize that the wait times, generally, what they indicated so far, was the wait times were for folks with chronic conditions seeking the next appointment, already seeking service. It was not necessarily a situation where they were calling for emergency services. And the I.G. Indicated he didn't see a length between the wait and them actually dying. That does not excuse the fact that the wait times in general are too long in some facilities. So what we have to do is find out what exactly happened. We have to find out how can we realistically cut some of these wait times. There has been a large influx of new veterans coming in. We have a population that is ageing as part of the baby boom population. And we have to make sure that the scheduling system, the access to the system, that all those things are in sync. There are parts of the V.A. Health care system that have performed well. And what we've seen is, for example, satisfaction rates in many facilities and with respect to many providers, has been high. But what you -- what we're seeing is that in terms of how folks get scheduled, how they get in the system, there's still too many problems. I'm going to get a complete report. It is not, as a consequence of people not caring about the problem. But there are 85 million appointments scheduled among veterans during the course of a year. That's a lot of appointments. And that means that we have to have a system that is built in order to be able to take thofolks in in a smooth fashion. They know what to expect. It's reliable. And it means that the V.A. Has to set standards it can meet. If it can't meet them right now, then it's going to have to set realistic goals about how they improve the system overall. Is it the responsibility of secretary general Eric shinseki? The responsibility is ultimately with me as the commander in chief. Shinseki has been a great soldier. He himself is a disabled veteran. Nobody cares more about the veterans than Eric shinseki. If you ask me how do I think he has performed overall, I would say that homelessness, on 9/11 G.I. Bill, on working with us to reduce the backlog across the board, he has put his heart and soul into this thing and taken it seriously. But I said it to Rick, and I said it to him today. I want to see what the results of these reports are, and there is going to be accountability. And I'm going to expect even before the reports are done that we are seeing significant improvement in terms of how the admissions process takes place in all of our V.A. Health care facilities. So I know he cares about it deeply, and, you know, he has been a great publicer servant and a great warrior on behalf of the United States of America. We're going to work with him to solve the problem. But I am going to make sure that there is accountability throughout the system after I get the full report. Steve, reuters. Thank you, sir. Has secretary shinseki offered to resigned? If he's not to blame, who is? And were you caught by surprise by these allegations? Rick shinseki, I think, serves this country because he cares deeply about veterans and he cares deeply about the mission. And I know that Rick's attitude is that if he does not think he can do a good job on this, and he thinks he has let our veterans down, I'm sure he's not going to be interested in continuing to serve. At this stage, he is committed to solving the problem and working with us to do it. And I am going to do everything in my power, using the resources of the white house, to help that process of getting to the bottom of what happened and fixing it. But I'm also going to be waiting to see what the results of all this review process yields. I don't yet know how systemic this is. I don't yet know, are there a lot of other facilities that have been cooking the books? Or is this just an episodic problem? We know that, you know, essentially wait times have been a problem for decades in all kinds of circumstances with respect to the V.A. Getting benefits, getting health care, et cetera. Some facilities do better than others. A couple of years ago, the veterans affairs set a goal of 14 days for wait times. What's not yet clear to me is whether enough tools were given to make sure that those goals were actually met. And I won't know until the full report is put forward as to whether there was enough management followup to ensure that those folks on the front lines who were doing scheduling had the capacity to meet those goals, if they were being evaluates for meeting goals that were unrealistic and couldn't because there weren't enough doctors or the systems weren't in place. See who was responsible for setting up those guidelines. There are a lot of questions to answer. In the meantime, I said today, let's not wait for the report, let's respectively take -- reach out immediately to veterans who are currently waiting for appointments to make sure that they are getting better service. That's something that we can initiate right now. We don't have to wait to find out if there was misconduct to dig in and make sure that we're upping our game in all of our various facilities. You know, I do think it is important, not just with respect to shinseki, but with respect to the V.A. Generally, to say that every single day there are people working in the V.A. Who do outstanding work and put everything they have into making sure that our veterans get the care, benefits and services that they need. And so I do want to close by sending a message out there that there are millions of veterans who are getting really good service from the V.A. Who are getting really good treatment from the V.A. I know because I get letters and veterans sometimes asking me to write letters of commendation or praise to a doctor or a nurse or a facility that couldn't have given them better treatment. And so this is a big system with a lot of really good people in it who care about our veterans deeply. We have seen the improvements on a whole range of issues like homelessness, like starting to clear the backlog up, like making sure that folks who previously weren't even eligible for disability because it was a mental health issue or an agent Orange issue are finally able to get those services. I don't want us to lose sight of the fact there are a lot of fol -- folks in the V.A. Who are doing a good job and working hard at it. That doesn't excuse the possibility that number one, we were not doing a good enough job in terms of providing access to folks who need unemployment for chronic conditions. Number two, it never excuses the possibility that somebody was trying to manipulate the data in order to look better, or make their facility look better. It is critical to make sure that we have good information in order to make good decisions. I want people on the front line to tell me or tell shinseki, or whoever is their superior that this is a problem. Don't cover up the problem. Don't pretend the problem doesn't exist. If you can't get wait times down to 14 days right now, let folks up the chain know so that we can solve the problem. Do we need more doctors? Do we need a new system in order to make sure that scheduling and coordination is more effective and more smooth? Is there more followup? And that's -- that's the thing that right now most disturbs me about the report. The possibility that folks intentionally withheld information that could have helped us fix a problem. There's not a problem out there that's not fixable. It can't always be fixed as quickly as everybody would like. We can chip away at problems. We have seen it with the backlog, veterans homelessness, the post 9/11 G.I. Bill. They fixed it, now it's operating fairly smoothly. Problems can be fixed, but folks have to let the people they're reporting to know that there is a problem in order for us to fix it. We're going to find out. My attitude is -- listen, if somebody's mismanaged or engaged in misconduct, not only do I not want them getting bonuses, I want them punished. So that's what we're going to hopefully find out from the I.G. Report as well as the audits that are taking place. Thank you very much. President Obama with his most forceful saying yet on the growing controversy at the V.A. Health centers. He says the allegations are dishonorable, disgraceful, not to be tolerated. He denied the link between the waiting facilities in Arizona and the deaths. A whistle blower said 40 deaths were. The president denying the link today. Return now to the regular programming. Diane sawyer will have a report on "World news." We cover this all night long. Have a great day. Whoopi, the woodmen, with

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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