Obama Pushes Accountability at VA

   < < Go Back
from The Wall Street Journal,

President Meets With VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Vows to Punish Anyone Involved in Problems.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he will next week receive preliminary results of an investigation into allegations of misconduct at the Department of Veterans Affairs and vowed to punish anyone who is found responsible for the problems.

Mr. Obama, speaking Wednesday at the White House after a meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, also said his senior aides will conduct a comprehensive review of the veterans’ health system.

“Any misconduct, whether it’s allegations of VA 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,” Mr. Obama said. “Once we know the facts, I assure you if there is misconduct it will be punished.”

The president left open the possibility that Mr. Shinseki could eventually be forced to leave his post, saying he will wait for the investigations into the matter to be complete. Ultimately, he said, responsibility for such problems at the VA rests with him as commander in chief.

Mr. Shinseki couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Mr. Obama’s statement and meeting with Mr. Shinseki, comes amid widening allegations of extended wait times at VA health facilities, including the creation of unauthorized appointment waiting lists that made official wait times appear to fall within VA targets. It is the first time Mr. Obama has publicly addressed the matter since April 28, when he was asked about it during a trip to Asia.

The White House has scrambled in the past week to contain the rumble, which began with allegations of extended wait times at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix.

Whistleblowers there have said that as many as 40 veterans may have died while waiting for appointments. Richard Griffin, the acting VA inspector general, said last week his office hasn’t found any instances of patient deaths because of excessive wait times after reviewing 17 cases.

The inspector general is conducting an investigation into the matter, while the VA and the White House have undertaken a separate review.

Criticism of Mr. Obama’s handling of the matter has grown in Congress. The House is set to vote on a bill Wednesday that would give the VA secretary more power in demoting and firing senior-level employees.

The White House signaled Wednesday Mr. Obama would support such legislation.

“The goal of empowering the secretary to be able to hold folks accountable is one that we share,” Mr. Carney said. “We’re discussing with Congress this legislation and concerns that we have with it.”

More From The Wall Street Journal (subscription required):