Five takeaways from President Obama’s VA remarks


President Obama delivers a statement after meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki at the White House on May 21. (Jim Watson/AFP-Getty Images)

President Obama on Wednesday addressed the recent allegations that Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals throughout the nation have falsified appointment records to hide treatment delays.

Here are five takeaways from the president’s remarks:

1.) He did not fire Eric Shinseki

Obama instead praised the VA secretary for his record of military service and noted that he was wounded during the Vietnam War. He added that “nobody cares more about our veterans than Rick Shinseki.”

But Obama left open the possibility that he may take action against Shinseki later if the results of an inspector general’s investigation do not bode well for the department chief.

“We’re going to work with him to solve the problem, but I am going to make sure that there is accountability throughout the system after I get the full report,” Obama said.

2.) He is not rushing to conclusions

Although some veterans groups have called for Shinseki and other top VA officials to be removed because of the alleged scheduling scandal, Obama is sticking with the wait-and-see approach as an inspector general completes a nationwide investigation of the matter.

“I know that people are angry and want swift reckoning,” he said. “I sympathize with that. But we have to let the investigators do their job and get to the bottom of what happened.”

3.) He vowed to punish any wrongdoing

Obama condemned the alleged cover-ups and promised accountability, saying anyone who falsified records would face consequences. “If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful and I will not tolerate it, period,” he said.

“Our veterans deserve to know the facts,” Obama added. “Their families deserve to know the facts. Once we know the facts, I assure you, if there is misconduct, it will be punished.”

4.) He dropped hints about the investigations

First, let’s look at the timelines. Obama said he expects to receive early results from the VA’s own examination of the scheduling issues next week. He added that a separate review by White House advisor Rob Nabors should be complete next month.

The president also mentioned that the department’s independent inspector general has indicated that there was no direct link between the wait times and patient deaths. He said the delays don’t seem to have affected veterans who needed emergency care.

Obama suggested twice that the issue impacted veterans with long-term health problems, saying at one point that “we were not doing a good enough job in terms of providing access to folks who need an appointment for chronic conditions.”

5.) What he didn’t do

Obama said “taking care of our veterans and their families has been one of the causes of my presidency,” and he added that the VA has made progress on many longstanding problems during his administration.

But he didn’t offer an explanation for how a scheduling problem that federal investigators have documented and warned about for more than a decade could grow so widespread during his time in the White House.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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