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VA Chief Eric Shinseki Resigns Post, Obama Announces

Eric Shinseki resigned as the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday, in what President Obama said was a decision spurred by a desire to not distract from efforts to fix the agency's problems. Earlier Friday, Shinseki spoke at a conference in Washington.
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Eric Shinseki resigned as the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday, in what President Obama said was a decision spurred by a desire to not distract from efforts to fix the agency's problems. Earlier Friday, Shinseki spoke at a conference in Washington.

Embattled Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned his position, hours after saying he would work to fix "systemic" problems in the VA's health care system.

President Obama said Friday that the decision was made so Shinseki wouldn't be a "distraction" from efforts to address the agency's wide-ranging problems.

The agency will be led on an interim basis by Sloan Gibson, its deputy secretary who was confirmed by the Senate in February. Gibson is a former Army officer and bank executive who came to the VA after leading the USO nonprofit.

We've updated the top of this post with the news of Shinseki's resignation, and we'll be adding more details as they emerge.

Update at 11:35 a.m. ET: Widespread Problems At VA

President Obama announced Shinseki's departure from his Cabinet after saying that he had met with Shinseki on Friday morning to get a more complete picture of the issues facing the VA.

"What they found is that misconduct has not been limited to a few facilities," Obama said.

He said that he accepted Shinseki's resignation "with considerable regret."

"I want to reiterate: He is a very good man," Obama said. He called Shinseki's work "exemplary" and cited progress in several areas during Shinseki's tenure at the VA. As we reported earlier today, those accomplishments include reducing homelessness among veterans.

Obama said that because of record-keeping issues, the VA's problems had been obscured from his administration and Shinseki for a long time.

The president rejected a reporter's question about possible "scapegoating," saying that with the uproar around the VA's failings, he didn't want the agency's leader distracted by second-guessing and doubts about their tenure.

"We're going to need a new VA secretary," Obama said, adding that for now the agency will be led by Sloan Gibson, who was confirmed as its deputy secretary in February.

(Update at 12:15 p.m. ET: New interim VA leader Gibson is a former bank executive who came to the organization after leading the USO nonprofit. According to his bio page on the VA site, Gibson is a former Army officer who graduated from West Point. He's also the son and grandson of veterans of World Wars II and I.

In a report about Gibson's confirmation hearings last November, Federal News Radio said he told senators he "would tackle the longstanding backlog of disability claims and will work to find common ground with the Defense Department on a new strategy for a joint electronic-health records system.")

Update at 11:20 a.m. ET: Obama Accepts Shinseki's Resignation

Citing systemic problems at the VA, President Obama said Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned his post Friday.

The president said a review of the VA's systems had found "unacceptable" problems in the agency.

We'll update as more news comes out.

Our original post continues:

"This situation can be fixed," Shinseki said of the VA crisis Friday morning, in a speech at the convention for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Shinseki apologized for a situation that has reportedly included long wait times, fudged records and preventable deaths in the VA's medical system.

On Wednesday, the VA's inspector general issued an interim report that said "patients at the Phoenix VA hospital were put on unofficial wait lists and subjected to treatment delays of up to 115 days," as the Two-Way reported.

"I will not defend it because it is indefensible," Shinseki said. "But I can take responsibility for it, and I do."

Saying that he had begun the process of removing the Phoenix facility's senior leadership, Shinseki also announced that he is suspending executive bonuses that are based on patient wait times. He also said he wants Congress to give his office more power to hire and fire staff within the agency.

In this morning's speech, Shinseki announced a success in another project, saying homelessness among veterans had dropped by 24 percent since 2010. As he discussed those gains, he received several standing ovations.

Both Obama and Shinseki have pledged to hold accountable anyone who's found to have contributed to the VA's problems.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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