AUGUSTA, Maine — President Barack Obama announced Friday that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned.
The announcement came the morning after U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the ranking House member of Congress’ Veterans Affairs Committee, added his voice to those calling for Shinseki’s departure.
Michaud, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, joined roughly two dozen Democrats and several Republicans in Congress who asked the VA chief to step down in the wake of the recent VA hospital waitlist scandal.
“It is with a heavy heart that I call on Secretary Shinseki to step down as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Michaud said in a statement released late Thursday night.
Shinseki was at the center of scandal as revelations emerged that veterans were made to wait months for treatment at VA hospitals, which could have led to otherwise preventable deaths. Not only were veterans forced to wait for more than 100 days, but the VA reportedly covered up the problem by falsifying reports to federal regulators.
Michaud, who is also running for governor, praised Shinseki’s record of service, but said “the systemic failures in our VA system are inexcusable, and must be fixed immediately so that this never happens again.”
In a statement released after Shinseki’s resignation was announced, Michaud called the decision “honorable” and thanked him for his service.
“Right or wrong, he was becoming the focal point of this issue — to the extent that it was distracting us from addressing the very serious problems within the VA system,” Michaud said.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, Maine’s other U.S. House member, echoed that perspective.
“It is my sincere hope that the focus can now be put where it is needed most — moving forward to resolve these serious issues so our veterans can get the quality, timely care they have earned and deserve,” she said in a prepared statement.
Obama announced that he had accepted Shinseki’s resignation “with considerable regret” shortly after the two men met privately Friday at the White House.
Obama said he accepted the resignation of the soft-spoken, 71-year-old retired Army general after being briefed on the initial findings of the investigation into abuses that were initially found in Phoenix but later identified at other facilities across the country.
Obama praised Shinseki’s military career and accomplishments at the VA, including tackling issues like post-traumatic stress syndrome and homelessness among veterans.
The scandal over long delays in providing medical care to veterans comes just five months before congressional elections in which all 435 House of Representatives seats are up for grabs, along with one-third of the 100-member Senate.
Inspector general probes are now active at 42 VA locations around the country and have put Obama and his Democrats on the defensive ahead of the November congressional elections. Republicans have attacked the administration over the problems, saying it was an example of mismanagement.
Obama said Sloan Gibson, deputy secretary of the VA, would take the helm at the agency on an acting basis while he looked “diligently” for a new permanent VA secretary.
Shinseki’s resignation came just hours after he addressed the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and apologized to veterans, lawmakers and the American people for the abuses, in which administrators manipulated waiting lists to hide exactly how long patients had to wait to see a physician.
Information from Reuters is included in this report.