With preliminary findings confirming initial reports of wrong doing by VA employees and a rising chorus calling for his resignation, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki submitted his resignation to President Obama on Friday. Although VetsFirst had not called for his resignation, we believe that whether or not he should remain was becoming a distraction that would have made it more difficult to move forward in addressing VA’s health care access problems.
Weeks after allegations that veterans died waiting for care became the focus of national attention, preliminary reports issued this week showed that the problems with scheduling revealed at the VA’s Phoenix health care system are not isolated. In Phoenix, the VA’s Office of Inspector General has reported that over 200 veterans waited on average 115 days for primary care appointments. Following this report, many new voices joined the chorus calling for Shinseki to step down.
VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson has been appointed as Acting Secretary. Gibson was confirmed by the Senate as Deputy Secretary earlier this year. Prior to serving as Deputy Secretary, he was in charge of the USO.
VetsFirst knows how critical VA health care is for so many of our veterans living with disabilities. It is imperative that VA prove veterans can trust that they will receive quality care throughout the system. We agree with the President and Secretary Shinseki that a change of VA leadership is needed to allow reforms to move forward. Furthermore, we support the full punishment allowed for any employees who gamed the system.
We appreciate the past service of Secretary Shinseki, but welcome the opportunity to now focus on how to address identified problems. In order to ensure that veterans are properly served, we must see a significant shift in access to care. We must get to the root of the delays which include staffing vacancies, inefficient use of resources, and the need for additional resources to truly provide the level of care veterans have earned. VA must also use every authority available to it, including helping veterans receive care outside VA when necessary, to ensure that they receive the care they need when they need it.
VA provides high quality care to millions of veterans, and we believe that mission will continue to be successful. The accountability measures in the Department, however, must keep pace with these troubling times. Implementation of needed changes will ensure that the VA health care system is an invaluable resource for veterans both now and in the future.