Eric Shinseki is a disabled veteran who lost part of his right foot to a mine in Vietnam, a soldier who riled superiors by telling Congress the U.S. needed more troops in Iraq than Washington wanted.
That bond is why veterans groups overwhelmingly endorsed Eric Shinseki as Veterans Affairs secretary in 2009. And it's part of the reason many continued to support him until his resignation Friday in the firestorm surrounding lengthy waits for veterans to get care at VA hospitals and reports that employees tried to cover them up.
Shinseki, 71, served longer than any other VA secretary since 1989, when the agency became a cabinet-level department.
Support for Shinseki among vets was not universal. The American Legion led the call for his resignation.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday amid allegations of misconduct and cover-ups at the VA hospital in Phoenix.
A report this week by investigators probing VA facilities nationwide described chronic wait times and found that about 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" in the Phoenix area.
Investigators are still in the process of uncovering problems at dozens of VA facilities across the country while some lawmakers are calling for criminal probes.
Sloan Gibson, a VA deputy secretary who was confirmed by the Senate in February, has been named as the interim VA Secretary.
“Sec. Shinseki has honorably served our nation, but faced with the facts released earlier this week, it’s clear the VA is in need of significant changes to provide the care our veterans have been promised,” Johanns said. “Sec. Shinseki’s resignation cannot be the end of this scandal. So many times in Washington the solution is to change leadership and hope the problem gets swept under the rug as the headlines fade away. We must not let that be the case this time.
“As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I take seriously the responsibility to care for our veterans. I will press forcefully for the implementation of the inspector general’s initial recommendations and any future recommendations to ensure the corruption is stopped and never repeated.”
Secretary Shinseki’s resignation came two days after an interim report from the VA’s Inspector General revealed that at least 1,700 veterans were left off a health care appointment waitlist at the Phoenix VA medical facility. The report also showed patients there waited an average of 115 days for their initial appointments, and concluded that problems at the VA are "systemic" and not limited to Phoenix.
Senator Chuck Grassley
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said, “When problems in a department are widespread, the top leadership bears ultimate responsibility for the management shortcomings that let it happen. But this can’t be the end of the story. The problems will still be there after this resignation, and they need to be fixed. Everyone in the department who was responsible should go. The Senate should take up the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act that the House passed last week to help make that possible. That legislation makes it easier to fire senior Veterans Affairs employees over poor performance. I’m co-sponsoring the Senate companion bill. Too often, a resignation at the top becomes an excuse for a president to abandon reforms and escape accountability. This resignation doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t give President Obama a free pass to move on.”
Senator Tom Harkin
From Iowa Senator Tom Harkin: “Our nation’s veterans have earned access to the best services our government can provide, but over the past few years that has not been what they have received from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Secretary Shinseki has been a devoted public servant who has done exemplary work on behalf of our country for four decades and the current situation at the VA should not diminish his decades of service to his country. The task before us is to ensure that veterans receive the benefits they have earned, educational opportunities that lead to good jobs, and health care that is both timely and high quality. Congress must now get back to the task at hand and ensure the VA has the resources to implement these solutions.”
Representative Lee Terry
Nebraska Congressman Lee Terry was quoted in a statement as saying, “I’m grateful for Eric Shinseki’s service to our country in leading the men and women in uniform on the battlefield. It’s unfortunate he did not show the same kind of leadership as Veterans Affairs Secretary to those very same men and women once they returned home. Today, Secretary Shinseki made the right decision.
“Part of my issue with General Shinseki’s leadership was his unwillingness to meet with the Nebraska delegation to discuss alternative financing issues that would bring a new world class facility in Omaha. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues in the Nebraska delegation to work through some of these options with the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs.”