President Barack Obama
promised Wednesday “to fix whatever is wrong” with the Veterans Affairs
healthcare system while continuing to voice his support of embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki
“We have to find out first exactly what happened,” Obama told reporters Wednesday morning in the White House briefing room after a meeting with Shinseki. Preliminary results from the VA-ordered review of scheduling at the VA's facilities is expected next week, Obama said.
The president also said White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors was traveling to Phoenix on Wednesday as part of the broader review he will direct.
The VA has become the target of growing scrutiny since allegations surfaced that several veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital and that VA employees had doctored scheduling records to mask wait times. Obama, calling those accounts “disgraceful,” said anyone found to have engaged in misconduct will be punished.
“I will not stand for it. Not as commander in chief. Not as an American,” he said.
But Obama continued to defend Shinseki, whose resignation some lawmakers and veterans organizations have called for since the allegations. “No one cares more about our veterans,” he said of the VA secretary. He added that Shinseki at this point is committed to investigating and fixing the problems and would no longer be interested in serving if he concludes he has let veterans down.
But the president also repeatedly noted that problems plaguing the VA system are not new. “Caring for our veterans is not an issue that popped up in recent weeks,” Obama said, acknowledging that it often takes too long for veterans to get the care they need.
He blamed delays on an influx of new veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an aging baby boomer veteran population. There are more than 85 million appointments scheduled in the VA healthcare system each year, Obama said.
The president also said that he told Shinseki they shouldn't wait for results from the national audit before reaching out to veterans currently waiting for appointments. “Folks fighting on the battlefield should not have to fight bureaucracy to get the care they need at home,” he said.Follow Rachel Landen on Twitter: @MHrlanden