WASHINGTON — Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apologized to all veterans and the nation for scandal involving the systemic delay of health care to veterans at VA hospitals across the country.
He also vowed to fire leaders at a Phoenix VA hospital where a VA inspector general investigation showed that 1,700 veterans were removed from any official list and kept waiting for appointments, some for up to six months or longer.
Investigators linked these delays with efforts by hospital personnel, at Phoenix and other VA medical facilities. to improve their performance records on wait times.
In remarks Friday, Shinseki said he was shocked by widespread evidence of a loss in integrity, admitted that he failed to see this was happening and said he would provide no bonuses to any medical directors in the 150-hospital system this year.
A former Army chief of staff, Shinseki has been under fire since the scandal surfaced, and members of Congress from both parties have called for him to resign. He is scheduled to meet later Friday with President Obama.
He promised to hold accountable any medical officials found to have engaged in the same behavior at VA hospitals and clinics across the country. The Inspector General's Office said this week said 42 VA medical facilities are currently under investigation for delaying care and falsifying patient appointment records.. In addition, Shinseki said that his own system-wide internal audit has found a similar pattern of lying about wait times.
"The breach of integrity is irresponsible, indefensible," Shinseki said of hospital leaders who engaged in the practice. "I was too trusting…I can't explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our health care facilities."
He went on to say, "I will not defend it because it is indefensible."
Dozens of lawmakers of both parties have called up Shinseki to quit in the wake of the scandal. But he gave no indication that he would do so.
His remarks came at the conclusion of a speech Shinseki delivered on veteran homelessness in Washington, D.C, before an adoring audience of homeless veteran advocates who gave him a standing ovation when arrived. At the end of a speech in which he listed his successes in reducing veteran homelessness, Shinseki said it was time to address "the elephant in the room."