President Obama previously said that no one was more qualified than Eric Shinseki to head the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and that “no one will ever doubt” Shinseki’s performance in the job.
Lawmakers and veteran groups are currently calling for VA Secretary Shinseki to resign after a series of scandals including secret waiting lists at VA hospitals that led to preventable veteran deaths. Shinseki refused to resign during a lackluster performance in a Senate hearing Thursday. On Friday, Shinseki announced that he accepted the “resignation” of top VA health official Robert Petzel, but records show that Petzel was already scheduled to retire in 2014.
Then-president-elect Obama heaped praise upon Shinseki when he announced Shinseki’s nomination to the VA job shortly after his election in 2008. Shinseki became a darling on the left by criticizing the Bush administration’s Iraq War strategy.
“There is no one more distinguished, more determined, or more qualified to build this VA than the leader I am announcing as our next secretary of Veterans Affairs — Gen. Eric Shinseki,” Obama said at a press conference in Chicago on December 7, 2008, timed to coincide with Pearl Harbor Day.
“No one will ever doubt that this former Army chief of staff has the courage to stand up for our troops and our veterans. No one will ever question whether he will fight hard enough to make sure they have the support they need,” Obama said.
Shinseki attempted Thursday to use a pending inspector general investigation into the VA scandals as cover for not providing too much information at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing where he was grilled by senators from both parties.
Shinseki said that “I am not” familiar with a past internal VA memo from a staffer pointing out scheduling system abuses, even though he recognized the employee’s name and Petzel said he was aware of the memo.
Though Shinseki claimed that thousands of employees were involuntarily terminated in the years 2012 and 2013, he admitted under questioning, “Some may be reassignments…some by retirement, and some in effect being let go.”