Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testifies May 15 at the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee about in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki issued a message to veterans Thursday defending his leadership and promising to fix delays in care that have rocked his agency and the Obama administration in recent days.
The 71-year-old head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the second largest federal agency, is resisting calls for his resignation.
Shinseki used the narrative posted on the VA website to tout several accomplishments during his nearly six years of leadership.
He noted that allegations of VA employees’ misconduct have surfaced over the last several weeks, beginning with scheduling delays at the Phoenix VA and said that if found to be true “we will act.”
He wrote that the “reports of veterans’ negative experiences while seeking VA care are of great personal concern to me. I fully agree with President Obama’s statement (Wednesday) ‘If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful.’ “
The VA Inspector General is investigating 26 hospitals in connection with allegations that health care was delayed and that employees worked to cover up the time it was taking to see a doctor by falsifying records or keeping secret scheduling files. At the VA hospital in Phoenix, a retired doctor reported that up to 40 patients had died awaiting care. The inspector general has so far found no deaths in Phoenix connected to delays, although the investigation is far nearly completed.
Shinseki said he has also launched an audit of all 150 VA hospitals and 820 out-patient clinics, employing a team of 200 staffers, to look into delays of care.
He talked about how busy the VA medical facilities are handling 236,000 appointments each day.
The embattled secretary listed a series of accomplishments, including enrollment of 2 million new veterans in the health care system, a 24 percent reduction in veteran homelessness, and more than a million veterans or eligible family members receiving education benefits.
He promised to meet his goal of ending a backlog in disability claims by 2015.
Shinseki cited high scores for medical care in customer satisfaction surveys and asserted that the agency is delivering quality care.
“VA will do even better,” he said.
Growing numbers of critics have been demanding Shinseki’s resignation, angry about reports going back several years that veterans wait weeks, months or longer before seeing a doctor. They include the American Legion, the largest veterans group in the country, several Republican lawmakers and two Democratic congressmen.
In remarks Wednesday, President Obama said he is so far standing by Shinseki but withheld final judgment until further investigative and audit findings become available.