Veterans Affairs Chief Apologizes for Problems, Won’t Step Down

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apologized on Friday for scheduling abuses at veterans’ healthcare facilities to cover up long wait times, saying the problems were more severe than he initially thought.

Shinseki, speaking at a conference on homeless veterans in Washington, has faced growing calls for his resignation but he did not offer to step down. While he was speaking, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would meet with Shinseki at 10:15 a.m. EDT.

Obama, in an interview Friday on ABC, said he plans to “have a serious conversation with him about whether he thinks he’s prepared and has the capacity to take on the job of fixing it, because I don’t want any veteran to not be getting the kind of services they deserve.”

At the conference, Shinseki took responsibility for the leadership and integrity problems that were first found at a facility in Phoenix but are now part of a larger probe involving others across the country.

“We now know that VA has a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity within some of our veterans health facilities,” he said. “That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible and unacceptable to me.”

The embattled secretary said he had been led to believe the problems were limited and isolated but that he had been too trusting.

“Given the facts I now know, I apologize as the senior leader of Veterans Affairs,” he said, adding that the leadership and integrity woes at the VA can be fixed.

He announced several changes, including the removal of senior leaders at the Phoenix facility. He also called on Congress to pass legislation addressing the issue.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, David Alexander and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Doina Chiacu)