WASHINGTON >> President Barack Obama is "madder than hell" about reports that some medical facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs have falsified data to hide substantial delays for veterans to see doctors, and he has demanded that the department’s leaders "fix these things," the White House chief of staff said in an interview aired Sunday.
"The president is madder than hell, and I’ve got the scars to prove it, given the briefings that I’ve given the president" on the subject, the chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, said on the CBS News program "Face the Nation."
He said that the White House had "deployed additional staff over to the Veterans administration to dig into this, to find out if this is a series of isolated cases or whether this is a systemic issue that we need to address with wholesale reform." He also called attention to what he said had been substantial increases in resources devoted to veterans care under Obama.
Veterans groups have expressed mounting anger over reports that workers at some medical centers kept secret waiting lists to disguise what could be waits of months by veterans to see doctors. The department’s inspector general is working with federal prosecutors to ascertain whether criminal violations have occurred.
"We realize that the administration has done a lot for the veterans, but that isn’t the issue," Dan Dellinger, director of the American Legion, said on CBS. He said that under the Veterans Affairs secretary, Eric K. Shinseki, "Accountability hasn’t been there," adding that there had been "egregious mismanagement of the entire system."
McDonough gave no indication that the president was considering dismissing Shinseki, despite calls from several Republican lawmakers and some veterans that he do so.
Asked whether Shinseki retained the president’s full confidence and was the right person to lead any reforms, McDonough replied that "he will continue to work these issues until they’re fixed."
When a CBS interviewer, Major Garrett, pressed McDonough about why the president had not publicly addressed the matter, McDonough replied: "Nobody is more outraged about this problem right now, Major, than the president of the United States. And he will continue to press as it relates to this question of timely access to care until it is fixed."
The interview was taped Friday, a day after Shinseki, in testimony before a Senate committee, declared that he himself was "mad as hell" about the reported allegations but said that he had no intention of resigning.