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Obama talks about accountability after meeting with VA's Shinseki

By Matthew Daly & Julie Pace

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 10:30 a.m. HST, May 21, 2014


WASHINGTON >> Seeking to head off a growing furor over veterans' health care, President Barack Obama declared Wednesday that allegations of misconduct at VA hospitals are "dishonorable" and will be not be tolerated by his administration.

"I will not stand for it -- not as commander in chief but also not as an American," Obama said following an Oval Office meeting with embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

His administration is under mounting pressure from Capitol Hill to address troubling allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at VA hospitals. The VA Inspector General's office said late Tuesday that 26 facilities are being investigated nationwide -- up from 10 just last week --  including a Phoenix hospital where 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for treatment and staff there kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide delays in care.

Shinseki, a retired Army four-star general from Kauai, is facing calls for his resignation from some lawmakers.

Obama spoke warmly of Shinseki Wednesday, saying the secretary had poured his heart and soul into his job, but said there would be accountability if the allegations of misconduct are proven to be true.

"We are going to fix whatever is wrong and so long as I have the privilege of serving as commander in chief, I'm going to keep on fighting to deliver the care and the benefits and the opportunities that you and your families deserve, now and for decades to come," Obama said.

The president spoke hours before the House was scheduled to vote on a bill that would grant the VA secretary more authority to fire or demote senior executives. The White House has said it shares the goals of the House measure -- to ensure accountability at the VA -- but has concerns about some of the details.

Obama's statement marked his first public comments on the matter in more than two weeks. Last week, he dispatched his deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors to the VA to oversee a review of department policies, with a preliminary report due next week and a full report scheduled to be sent to the White House in June. 

The president's remarks did little to quell the anger over the alleged misconduct. 

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a military veteran, said Obama's comments were "wholly insufficient in addressing the fundamental, systemic problems plaguing our veterans' health care system." And Paul Rieckhoff, the head of the organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called the president's words "a tremendous disappointment."  

"Speeches and excuses will not solve this problem," Rieckhoff said. "Only decisive leadership, bold change and strong accountability will repair decades of failure."

Nabors, who also took part in the Oval Office meeting Wednesday, was heading to Phoenix later in the day to meet with staff at the VA hospital at the center of the allegations. His meeting will include interim director Steve Young and other hospital administrators. 

The current director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, Sharon Helman, has been placed on leave indefinitely while the VA's inspector general investigates the claims raised by several former VA employees. Investigators probing the claims say they have so far not linked any patient deaths in Phoenix to delayed care.

The allegations have sparked election-year outrage on Capitol Hill. The House bill would target about 450 career employees at the VA who serve as hospital directors or executives in the agency's 21 regions.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, sponsored the measure, saying VA officials who have presided over mismanagement or negligence are more likely to receive bonuses or glowing performance reviews than any sort of punishment.

The VA's "widespread and systemic lack of accountability is exacerbating all of its most pressing problems," including revelations that the department maintained secret waiting lists to cover up long delays in patient appointments and a mounting toll of preventable deaths of veterans, Miller said.

Miller accused the VA of a "well-documented reluctance to ensure its leaders are held accountable for mistakes" and he said Congress has an obligation to "give the VA secretary the authority he needs to fix things. That's what my bill would do."

Shinseki and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday to discuss how the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments can improve interactions between their health records systems. The two Cabinet members said in a joint statement that the meeting was productive and said both men share the same goal: to improve health outcomes of active-duty military, veterans and beneficiaries.

Meanwhile, two Republican senators introduced legislation to prohibit payment of bonuses to employees at the Veterans Health Administration through next year. Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Deb Fischer of Nebraska said the VA should focus its spending on fixing problems at the agency, "not rewarding employees entrenched in a failing bureaucracy." Burr is the senior Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and Fischer is on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The House passed a bill in February that would eliminate performance bonuses for the department's senior executive staff through 2018.

Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, also called on Obama to back off plans to nominate Jeffrey Murawsky to replace the VA's undersecretary for health care, Robert Petzel, who has stepped down. Murawsky, a career VA administrator, directly supervised Helman from 2010 to 2012.

The White House has said Obama is standing behind Murawsky's nomination.







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kumasachi wrote:
Obama lies so much and it is hard to believe anything he says. His LIPS move but there is no action taken when he says he will do something. I wonder who he is going to blame for his incompetence!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
on May 21,2014 | 06:44AM
OldDiver wrote:
Republicans are leading the charge to embarrass President Obama through General Shinseki, but fail to mention Senate Republicans three months ago voted against a $21 billion bill to increase funding for the VA.
on May 21,2014 | 06:52AM
Winston wrote:
Once again, you fail to note that the current failure of leadership/management has nothing to do with funding, but has everything to do with the president's failure to follow through on his promises.

According to CBS News, the Republicans were concerned about where the funds for the latest VA legislation were to come from, something the democrats just don't seem to bother worrying about given their persistent inaction regarding our looming national debt problem. In fact that party pretends we don't have a problem while our $86trillion plus unfunded national liability just continues to grow.

So, your post amounts to a diversion from the real issue: The fundamental, repeatedly demonstrated incompetence of the President and his administration.


on May 21,2014 | 07:18AM
8082062424 wrote:
the only person who embarrass President Obama is him self. he a total failure and quite the liar
on May 21,2014 | 07:52AM
Winston wrote:
Also, one has to wonder if a sclerotic bureaucracy like the VA can't handle veterans healthcare, why, exactly should we expect better performance from the Federal government's management of Obamacare? The death panel charge by Obamacare critics always seemed a bit over the top, until now. Of course, no one at the VA intended for this to happen, but, even assuming the best of intentions on their part, it did. That's what happens in bureaucracies, stuff just happens and no one is responsible, and stuff just continues to happen.
on May 21,2014 | 07:54AM
inverse wrote:
When you think about it, currently, the Veterans administration, an arm of the federal government, appears to already institutionally installed their own DEATH PANELS for US veterans needing medical service. Except in the VA system it is called "secret lists" and can also involve altering records to cover their tracks. There is NO difference.
on May 21,2014 | 03:36PM
inverse wrote:
PS: How can you state "no one at the VA intended for this to happen" when it is now known that secret lists occurs in many VA centers across the country in multiple states. By definition this practice has been institutionalized.
on May 21,2014 | 03:40PM
serious wrote:
Whatever happened to the "buck stops here" and take responsibility? See his daily TV show? If he would spend more time on the job that he was elected for instead of campaigning and fund raising and vacationing perhaps these scandals--how many?? Would not happen. He never had a job and it shows!! He doesn't have the administrative skills and he appoints ???????
on May 21,2014 | 03:54PM
DAGR81 wrote:
Obama embarrasses himself...and our country.
on May 21,2014 | 08:57AM
kuroiwaj wrote:
OldDiver, the $21 billion was to fund Democrats across the Nation for the November election. Pres. Obama did not say, "Any of my appointees involved in cooking the books instead of taking care of veterans, tender your resignation or be fired."
on May 21,2014 | 10:38AM
Rite80 wrote:
Nonsense. Republicans have voted against at least ten bill to increase funding for the VA during the Obama administration which would have taken care of the veterans Republicans sent to war.
on May 21,2014 | 02:23PM
lee1957 wrote:
How on earth has the VA kept its doors open if those evil Republicans have refused to fund it?
on May 21,2014 | 05:17PM
Winston wrote:
VA funding was increased 22% in 2009.
on May 21,2014 | 05:49PM
Denominator wrote:
Sorry old d, this falls on Obama. this is not a question of money. it is a question of dishonest people, lies, cover-ups and do nothing administrators who have been collecting bonuses. why is it 6 years into his term before he tells us this is his greatest cause? this time the wind shift caught him with his pants down.
on May 21,2014 | 05:36PM
Macadamiamac wrote:
Please spew your vitriol somewhere else.
on May 21,2014 | 06:53AM
paulokada wrote:
Guess what this problem has been going on for a very long time. Just trying to save face now. Firing somebody will not fix the problem if there's no money.
on May 21,2014 | 07:09AM
retire wrote:
Here we go again, the VA has always been a mess, regardless of the party in power. Politicians pay it lip service and little else.
on May 21,2014 | 07:32AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Shinseki is getting a bad rap; he is the victim of unanticipated consequences of past actions by Congress that required VA to treat Vietnam veterans who claimed their diseases were caused by exposure to the Agent Orange herbicide. Since the medical and scientific communities have not found a link between any of the diseases and Agent Orange, VA calls them presumptive diseases which have added hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans to the VA rolls. The other thing that has added millions more to the VA rolls and is overwhelming the system is PTSD. Veterans can and almost all seemingly claim any and every problem on an alleged traumatic incident in a war zone. Can’t get along with family and friends – PTSD; can’t sleep at night – PTSD; can’t find a job – PTSD; using drugs – PTSD; committing crime - PTSD. Some claims of PTSD are legitimate, but I dare say the major reason so many veterans are claiming PTSD is that it now is considered a disability and entitles those so diagnosed with monthly compensation for life. We bombed Germany and Japan to smithereens during World War II. One must wonder why the people of those countries did not suffer from PTSD.
on May 21,2014 | 01:27PM
Dolphin743 wrote:
Actually, the PTSD issue is a little different. In many cases, soldiers are being told that PTSD is the cause of any symptoms they may be having, when in fact the causes stem from a traumatic brain injury that has not been properly diagnosed. As a result, the treatment regimen fails to address the actual underlying problem, and everything gets worse. We're still learning a lot about brain injuries and PTSD. We don't really have a good handle on it yet.
on May 22,2014 | 07:46AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Obama is mad. Ooooh, scary. He's calling for a study and a review to get to the bottom of what's happening. Pretty soon we'll see Michelle looking duck face sad with a sign saying #letsgetbetterappointmentsoftware.
on May 21,2014 | 08:05AM
Winston wrote:
"Duck face sad". Thanks for the chuckle. And you nailed this presidency, also, hash tagging their way through two terms. Pretty soon we'll see a request to establish a new military branch under the Strategic Hash Tag Initiative.
on May 21,2014 | 08:31AM
toomuchpilikia wrote:
"My administration will do a complete and comprehensive investigation of this problem". "We will get to the bottom of this". "Let's be clear about this"? "I am mad" REALLY?
on May 21,2014 | 09:07AM
Skyler wrote:
#bestpostoftheday
on May 21,2014 | 11:58AM
Charliegrunt wrote:
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) is right on target. kumasachi, Winston and retire all make valid points. First of all, the VA has been "in the toilet" for decades over many administrations. Second, although rightly having the highest priority, the lives and treatment of veterans is not the only issue. The handling of claims that affect disability payments and Dependents' Indemnity Compensation for the survivors of veterans who die from service connected disabilities, and the VA medical support system are also part of the overall problem, as well as the Administration and Congress reneging on promises made. Don't let the focus be on only one aspect. Obama immediately shows his hand in a cover-up with his nomination of Murawski. He and Shinseki also have not answered why in five years, they have yet to identify the problems, no less having plans or even beginning to address the problems. Yes, Mr. Secretary, at West Point, one of the first things they taught you was, "Take care of the troops!" You have one hell of a way of showing it.
on May 21,2014 | 08:21AM
Winston wrote:
A thought just occurred to me. How would a true, experienced business executive have handled this VA thing? I believe that from the git/go, he/she would have strengthened and supported the network of organizational Inspectors General throughout the Federal government (the Obama administration has actively suppressed the IGs in several instances).

He she would also have formed a bipartisan team to focus on the VA to take the politics out of it.

Another step a competent executive would have taken (anyone with leadership experience, really) would have made his/her personal presence in troubled area a priority AND would have insisted in fairly frequent inspections in trouble spots (like the VA).

Finally, an effective executive would have had the wisdom to know that, sometimes, organizations will never change without radical reform, complete restructuring in some cases.

Why did none of this happen in the last 5 years? The imaginary, competent executive leadership I describe doesn't exist in the current administration. Whose fault is that? Ours for electing a very inexperienced, ideologically driven president.


on May 21,2014 | 08:41AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
One of the first things the hypothetical executive would do is assure that the metrics of the business accurately and adequately reflect reality. You cannot make good decisions based on junk data.
on May 21,2014 | 09:02AM
Winston wrote:
A thought just occurred to me. How would a true, experienced business executive have handled this VA thing? I believe that from the git/go, he/she would have strengthened and supported the network of organizational Inspectors General throughout the Federal government (the Obama administration has actively suppressed the IGs in several instances).

He she would also have formed a bipartisan team to focus on the VA to take the politics out of it.

Another step a competent executive would have taken (anyone with leadership experience, really) would have made his/her personal presence in troubled area a priority AND would have insisted in fairly frequent inspections in trouble spots (like the VA).

Finally, an effective executive would have had the wisdom to know that, sometimes, organizations will never change without radical reform, complete restructuring in some cases.

Why did none of this happen in the last 5 years? The imaginary, competent executive leadership I describe doesn't exist in the current administration. Whose fault is that? Ours for electing a very inexperienced, ideologically driven president.


on May 21,2014 | 08:44AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Shinseki is not the culprit; he is the victim of unanticipated consequences of past actions by Congress that required VA to treat Vietnam veterans who claimed their diseases were caused by exposure to the Agent Orange herbicide. Since the medical and scientific communities have not found a link between any of the diseases and Agent Orange, VA calls them presumptive diseases which have added hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans to the VA rolls. The other thing that has added millions more to the VA rolls and is overwhelming the system is PTSD. Veterans can and almost all seemingly claim any and every problem on an alleged traumatic incident in a war zone. Can’t get along with family and friends – PTSD; can’t sleep at night – PTSD; can’t find a job – PTSD; using drugs – PTSD; committing crime - PTSD. Some claims of PTSD are legitimate, but I dare say the major reason so many veterans are claiming PTSD is that it now is considered a disability and entitles those so diagnosed with monthly compensation for life. We bombed Germany and Japan to smithereens during World War II. One must wonder why the people of those countries did not suffer from PTSD.
on May 21,2014 | 10:32AM
Ronin006 wrote:
The VA system has been overwhelmed by claims of PTSD. Veterans can and almost all seemingly claim any and every problem on an alleged traumatic incident in a war zone. Can’t get along with family and friends – PTSD; can’t sleep at night – PTSD; can’t find a job – PTSD; using drugs – PTSD. It also is frequently used by veterans as an excuse for criminal activity or bad behavior – PTSD made me do it. Shinseki should claim PTSD to get his critics to back off quickly.
on May 21,2014 | 11:03AM
lee1957 wrote:
There is not a smidgen of corruption...............
on May 21,2014 | 11:37AM
Mythman wrote:
The General is Sen Inouye' man - he got the job through Dan. So far, the Chicago white house has terminated at least two other Inouye guys, Salazar and Echo Hawk. Looks like a third one is next? The General at one time was being groomed to be our next senator.
on May 21,2014 | 01:56PM
cojef wrote:
Handwriting on the wall, the Phoenix office head on leave indefinitely will become the "fall" person who is going to get the ax. Shinseki's time is also numbered.
on May 21,2014 | 03:14PM
MariaBetty wrote:
Interesting that the 26 VA hospitals being investigated are RED states.
on May 21,2014 | 03:51PM
FLIPTOP2 wrote:
You may not recall but, then, Sec of Army, Gen Shinseki, was the one who directed all Soldiers wear the beret totally dissing those who wore the beret with honor for their specific sacrifices. So where is the beret today - NOT with the basic Soldier. Shinseki has always been a "My Way or the Highway." Well, the buck stops with Shinseki as he's NOT the guy for the VA. He's had more than ample time to straighten out this mess, but he lost confidence with the average Soldier before he left active duty.
on May 21,2014 | 04:30PM
RetiredUSMC wrote:
Amazing all the talk and not one person has said a word about Helping the Vets, its blame the Republicans for not funding, then we can't fund it because we don't know where the Money comes from, then it Obama's fault! Yet the people that need the help never thought about how they would be treated they went and did there jobs and now you want to do nothing but try and find blame! Each of you have forgot these brave young people, just like the Gulf War Vets have been forgot, and the Vietnam vets were forgot. You people are the reason nothing works you will forget about this in the next news cycle and move on! Shame on you!
on May 21,2014 | 04:31PM
jmarie wrote:
"I will not stand for it -- not as commander in chief but also not as an American," You mean Hussien O is an American? hum who would had thought!
on May 21,2014 | 04:54PM
Skyler wrote:
oh pul-eeeze.
on May 21,2014 | 05:33PM
bsdetection wrote:
There are 258,600 veterans who don't have health coverage because their incomes are below the poverty line and they live in states where Republican governors have refused to expand Medicare coverage for ideological reasons, even though doing so will cost their states nothing. Way to support the troops!
on May 21,2014 | 07:29PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
And notice how fast the Star Ad buried this story off their front page (online) when all the comments turned negative.
on May 21,2014 | 07:35PM
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