President Barack Obama announced Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned from his post Friday morning.
During a press conference, the President announced the news and said he accepted the resignation with “considerable regret.”
Obama made a statement in the White House briefing room, less than an hour after Shinseki arrived to discuss preliminary findings about sometimes deadly waits for veterans to get care at VA hospitals and other problems.
The retired four-star general received loud applause and a standing ovation when he stepped to the podium to address the group that advocates for homeless veterans.
The Kauai native had faced mounting calls to step down from lawmakers in both parties.
KHON2 spoke to Hawaii’s congressional delegation who said they support Shinseki, but agree that it would have been a distraction for him to stay on as head of the Veterans Affairs department.
All four members did not blame Shinseki for the department’s problems, but agreed that the problems are serious and need to be addressed.
“We must remain focused on the urgent action that has to be taken to right the wrongs that have been occuring within the VA and with these problems that pre-date Gen. Shinseki’s service there,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
“I think he did not want to be the distraction in the system,” said Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. “He wants the system to move forward and address what he considers to be an inexcusable situation and we all feel that way.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono had just met with veterans on Oahu Thursday night and said, “regardless of whether it was fair or not, I know that Secretary Shinseki did what he believed and concluded what was best for the VA going forward and that is what we ought to be focusing on now.”
Sen. Brain Schatz said that in Shinseki’s judgement, it was time for new leadership and that the problems “are appalling and unacceptable and the VA must deliver accountability for any wrongdoing and systemic changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Shinseki’s resignation comes two days after a scathing internal report found that about 1,700 veterans in need of care were “at risk of being lost or forgotten” after being kept off an official waiting list.
The investigation found broad and deep-seated problems in the sprawling health care system, which provides medical care to more than 6 million veterans annually.
Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson would replace him as an acting secretary.
Statement from U.S. Senator Brian Schatz:
“General Shinseki is a war hero and public servant who gave everything he had to our country and the job of Secretary of Veterans Affairs. In his judgement, it was time for new leadership to move forward. The problems uncovered are appalling and unacceptable and the VA must deliver accountability for any wrongdoing and systemic changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again. I pledge to work with the new Acting Secretary to make sure all veterans get quality and timely care.”
Statement from U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa:
“I personally appreciate General Shinseki’s unshakable commitment to our country and want to thank him for his decades of service. As I’ve said, the decision of whether and when he should resign as Secretary of Veterans Affairs was between him and the president, and I think this simply got to the point where he felt that he was a distraction from the pressing need to address the serious, systemic problems facing the VA.
“I know that General Shinseki is driven by both a commitment to serving our veterans and a desire to maintain the public trust. He is guided by the question, ‘What is in the best interest of our veterans?’ I think that while he would have liked to have been the leader who fixed the problems at the VA, he also recognized that we needed a change in leadership in order to proceed effectively. In that light, I think his resignation today is not a sign of failure, but of the same humility and dedication that he has always displayed in his years of service to our country. I think America and Hawaii can be proud of him.
“I hope that General Shinseki is right, and that we can now make real progress in addressing the very serious, and in some cases intolerable, shortcomings at the VA that are affecting the men and women who have served our nation.”
Statement from Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard:
“General Eric Shinseki is an American hero; he is a man of character and integrity, with a deep love and commitment for serving our country. Veterans everywhere, and the people of General Shinseki’s home state of Hawai‘i, continue to have great love and respect for him and his service. There is no question that he took his responsibility as Secretary of the VA personally and seriously, because he cares deeply for his fellow veterans, and did his best to lead a VA riddled with challenges that have existed for decades.
“But this day is not about General Shinseki. This day is about all of our servicemembers and veterans, and the tragedy that has been occurring within the VA, an organization which has lost sight of its mission. Our loyalty, anger, and hurt must be focused on taking action to ensure that not another day passes where a veteran in need remains waiting in the dark. We are facing a crisis, with veterans waiting months and sometimes years on official or secret waiting lists, while others are lost in the bureaucracy. This is unacceptable, and dishonors these great Americans who sacrificed so much. I am currently drafting legislation that will ensure that veterans are immediately able to access care from a doctor, whether in the VA system or not. This is an urgent action that must be taken to begin to deal with the immediate crisis and ensure all veterans are getting the care they need. Until the VA undergoes a systemic overhaul, and is once again able to deliver the highest standard of care to our veterans, we need to take creative steps that will yield immediate results.”
Statement from Lloyd T. Kitaoka, president, 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Organization:
It is deeply regrettable and a sad day for America that General Eric K. Shinseki, an honored and highly respected leader, has resigned as Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. General Shinseki is a man of great distinction and honor, a war hero and public servant whose entire career has been solely devoted to serving our country for many years. He did his best to improve the VA system, which over the years has been pervasive with challenges and very difficult to remedy. Being aware of the nature of politics and that the “buck stops at the top,” General Shinseki is highly admired for his decision to step down from leading the VA, however, we feel that he was unfairly blamed and unjustly treated for the entrenched ills of the department. General Shinseki is revered and respected and has done so much for the veterans of this country. The 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans stand by him and wish him all the very best in his future endeavors.