President Barack Obama has pushed Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki out the window.
But he lauded Shinseki’s performance at the VA, even as Obama admitted that “many” VA centers were engaged in abuse against veterans.
Obama tried to blame lower-level officials for the scandal, and for hiding information from Shinseki. “Bad news did not get to him,” Obama said.
“Ric’s commitment to our veterans is unquestioned… his service to our country is exemplary,” Obama said in a surprise press conference, following a morning meeting with Shinseki at the White House.
“I am grateful for his service… he has worked hard to investigate and identify the problems… but as he told me this morning, VA needs new leadership to address them,” he said.
“He does not want to be a distraction…that was Ric’s judgement. I agree. We don’t have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem,” Obama said.
That praise for Shinseki allows Obama to insulate himself from blame for his appointment of Shinseki.
It also allows him to pass the blame for the scandals, which were identified several years ago by VA officials, to lower-level officials. Obama blamed the problem on the VA’s use old computer systems, and said “there is a need for a change in culture” to ensure problems are recognized, he said.
But he also acknowledged that his firing of Shinseki would help muffle media coverage of the VA’s mismanagement. Shinseki had to leave so that the VA is run by leaders who won’t spend too much time answering questions on Congress or from the media, Obama said. “Not how are they getting second guessed, not speculation about [their] future and so on,” he said.
Obama also declared the VA needs a bigger budget, even though the VA has not been able to spend all of its fast-growing budget during the last few years. He announced that Shinseki would fire a series of VA officials and cancel pay bonuses, prior to his departure.
Shinseki’s resignation came only a few days after the VA’s inspector general revealed system management problems at the VA, and confirmed the existence of hidden waiting lists for more than 1,000 veterans at one of the VA’s medical centers.
Shinseki’s exit was accelerated by growing calls among Democrats for his departure.
At least 11 Democratic Senators and three Senate candidates had called for his resignation.