Obama on VA allegations: ‘I will not stand for it’

President Obama Speaks on VA Allegations

He promised accountability and swift action, but he’s not firing Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki – yet.

President Barack Obama sought to tamp down increasing calls for firm action on a growing controversy involving fraudulent record-keeping that covered up excessive and sometimes deadly waiting times for veterans at some VA facilities.

In a statement to reporters after meeting with Shinseki, Obama asked for more time to review what is going on, declaring that any proven misconduct will face punishment.

“If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period,” he said in his first public comments in weeks on the issue first reported by CNN last month.

Noting the public wants a “swift reckoning” on the VA issue, Obama instead defended the record of his administration and Shinseki — a retired Army general who has served as Veteran Affairs secretary throughout Obama’s presidency.

Shinseki is committed to solving the department’s problems, the President said, adding it has been made clear to him that there will be accountability throughout the VA system.

CNN reported last month that in Phoenix, the department used fraudulent record-keeping — including secret lists — that covered up excessive waiting periods for veterans, with some dying in the process. White House spokesman Jay Carney stepped around questions Tuesday about when Obama learned of the depth of the Department of Veterans Affairs problems.

In a new development on Wednesday, CNN learned that the Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman — who was placed on administrative leave because of the reported problems — received a bonus of $8,495 in April, which was in addition to the 2013 bonus she received, according to the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.

Meanwhile, the number of VA facilities under investigation has expanded to 26, the agency’s Office of Inspector General said Tuesday. Last week, the inspector general told a Senate committee that 10 facilities were being investigated.

Obama’s deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, will head to Phoenix on Wednesday night to interview the VA office’s interim director and visit the facility. Nabors is aiding Shinseki with a review of the allegations, and Obama said he expects a report from them next week.

In addition, Nabors is conducting a broader review of overall VA health care administration, with a deadline to report back to Obama in a month, the President said.

For six months, CNN has been reporting on delays in medical appointments for veterans across the country, with some dying or suffering harm while waiting for appointments and care. The most disturbing and striking problems emerged in Arizona last month, with sources revealing to CNN details of a secret waiting list. According to the sources, at least 40 American veterans died in Phoenix while waiting for care at the VA there.

An internal VA memo from 2010, first disclosed at a congressional hearing last week, showed officials warned of “inappropriate scheduling practices” to cover up excessive waits for veterans four years ago.

The memo by William Schoenhard, who was a VA deputy undersecretary, referred to a growing practice of “gaming strategies” that he said would not be tolerated. However, the CNN investigation shows such practices have continued.

One of CNN’s sources, Dr. Samuel Foote, a retired VA hospital physician, said Wednesday that VA managers worried about being able to report they were meeting deadlines for providing care to veterans, rather than getting accurate information on what was happening.

If the numbers provided to superiors looked good, then the VA looked good, Foote explained, adding, “There’s really no incentive for the upper management to get accurate numbers.”

He told CNN: “I think the VA needs to get out of its delay and deny mode and start admitting that there really is a problem, and that’s generally the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one.”

In response to CNN’s reporting, the VA has acknowledged 23 deaths across the country due to excessive waits by veterans for care, and the VA inspector general launched an independent investigation of the Phoenix allegations and other VA problems in addition to the internal review by Shinseki and Nabors.

At a Senate hearing last week, the inspector general said his investigation so far found a possible 17 deaths of veterans waiting for care in Phoenix but added there was no evidence that the excessive waiting caused the deaths.

Internal memo

On Monday, Carney acknowledged the White House learned of the situation at the Phoenix VA from CNN reports in April.

Asked Tuesday about the Schoenhard memo, Carney refused to answer and instead referred reporters to the VA because it was an internal VA document.

At the same time, Carney said Obama had long been aware of problems at the VA and sought to address them since taking office, adding, “This is not a new issue to the President.”

In 2007, Obama, then a senator from Illinois, vowed to tackle the issue of insufficient care for veterans at a campaign event during his first run for the presidency.

“When a veteran is denied care, we are all dishonored,” Obama said in the August 2007 speech, adding: “It’s not enough to lay a wreath on Memorial Day, or to pay tribute to our veterans in speeches.”

So far, the President has resisted calls by Republicans to fire Shinseki.

Whistleblowers from other VA hospitals across the country have stepped forward to describe similar schemes by officials to hide the extended waits.

Florida problems

Meanwhile, an audit team sent to the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida, discovered a list of patients needing follow-up appointments that was kept on paper instead of in the VA’s electronic computer system.

As a result, three members of the Gainesville VA’s supervisory staff have been placed on paid leave, pending the outcome of the inspector general’s investigation, VA Sunshine Healthcare Network spokeswoman Mary Kay Hollingsworth said this week.

The secret waiting list in Phoenix was part of an elaborate scheme designed by VA managers there who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources who spoke exclusively to CNN.

Phoenix VA officials denied any knowledge of a secret list, and said they never ordered any staff to hide waiting times. They acknowledged some veterans may have died waiting for care there, but they said they did not have knowledge about why those veterans might have died.

CNN has tried repeatedly to interview Shinseki, but the requests have been denied.

VA response ‘unacceptable’

On Tuesday, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller complained of a “very weak” and “unacceptable” response by the VA to a subpoena from his panel over the alleged health care delays.

The Florida Republican told CNN that if the VA doesn’t provide more details, the committee could move to hold the embattled agency in contempt.

The top Democrat on the House panel, Rep. Michael Michaud of Maine, told reporters that both sides were frustrated with the response so far.

“We do not want to give them more time if they don’t need that time — if this is in fact is a delay,” Michaud said. “There has been a credibility problem within the VA and that’s one of the reason why we’re concerned.”

The VA said in a statement that it had begun to turn over documents and would continue to do so on a rolling basis.

36 comments

  • Mike

    He will not stand for it…just like he didn’t Fast & Furious, the IRS scandal, Benghazi, etc…

    What a joke!!!

    • Fore

      No one supported his efforts then and the way some have be so critical of the president sounds like he gets no American support now. I sit by the presidents comment. Leave no one behind in or off the battle field. USA #1 and don’t forget it folks

      • Mark

        In 2008 Obama knew there was a backlog when it was brought up in the senate . He did not vote to fix it . He has known about this since then and has not done a thing . What makes anyone think he cares now ?

      • Mr. Perfect

        Really Fore? Do we really have to even go there?? He left 4 Americans left to be Murdered in Benghazi! And you have the audacity to sit there and say our president has no American support? Does he really deserve anything positive from the American people? Answer is NO! He’s the worst excuse for a president since Carter. Even Clinton didn’t do this poor of a job.

  • Espanol

    He wont tolerate it, but yet he can tolerate the amount of folks out of work and the increased healthcare costs….this guy is a total idiot and deserves to be impeached…by far the worst leader of this great country in history!

  • Julio

    He definitely is a failure as president, but I think he’ll make one great stand up comedian. He said it, he won’t stand for it; like he stands for anything American!

  • Fore

    If the va is not given medical attention to the veteran then who is, hire heros, friends, other countries witch doctors, other countries licensed doctors, got your six, or just the soldiers mom and pop?

  • Mary

    I would like to see everyone who is so critical do better!! Everyone judges so much. Are all of you aware of a little thing called CONGRESS?? THEY are who is in charge, not OBAMA!! Wake up people.

    • Mark

      Their unfounded hatred of the President trumps the truth and they will never believe it. They will continue to feel that all the world’s problem are because of the half white man in the White House.

      • truth-hurts

        Mark
        I don’t hate him I just don’t like his polices.
        I wish he was the best President we have ever had.
        But that’s FAR from the truth.

    • bella 07

      If congress is in charge, then he has no business making the comment that he won’t stand for it. I guess it is all talk!

  • Mary

    I’m so sick of people bashing Obama!! People have no respect for him as a president. Remember Bush and how everyone got all up in the air when anyone made comments publlicly about not liking him? What happened to that mentallity? We are too busy fighting with our own team to do any good for anyone. So SICK OF those who have so much to say but SO LITTLE to contribute!!

    • dobydog1

      the left not only bashed Bush everyday that he was in office they are still doing it today. there is an old saying what goes around come around.

      • Mary

        Bush was never bashed the way OBama is!! NEVER, there are a lot of people who just can’t get passed the fact that he is black. Therefore, they find fault WITH HIS EVERY SINGLE MOVE!!! Get over it already!!

    • Espanol

      The US President is supposed to be FOR the people, not against us. They all lie, cheat and steal, but to have a President who forcibly pushed a bill to have his own healthcare deserves nothing but a kick in the rear and pushed out of office. He said he needed 4 more years to make it right and what has he done since he miraculously received another term – increase the deficit and ruin more peoples lives. He is a joke of a President and by far the worst of them all! Bush was not good, so I agree, but Obama brings bad to a whole other level! black or not, he is one horrible leader!

  • Nonsense.

    The less educated people like scapegoats. It’s all they have left of governmental knowledge >20 years after getting a C in Civic Studies..I don’t like our Commander In Chief’s policies myself, but I sleep well at night knowing I don’t go around with drool/froth coming out of my mouth preaching nonsenses of how evil and unamerican he is. Y’all are embarrasing. IF YUU DUN LIIKE MEERICUH,YUU CAN GIIIIT OUT.

    • Mary

      agreed 100%, people get really sick of hearing all the bitching and complaining. Jesus, leave if you don’t lke it. Then you can tell us about how bad America is!

  • FaithC

    The only reason he is saying he will do anything for our Vets, is because their poor treatment has hit the news again. He has no respect for them and he does not care.

  • MarineDad

    Obama said “If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, PERIOD! He also said “If you like your Insurance you can keep it PERIOD!!! also he said ” If you like your doctor you can keep it PERIOD!!! so he lied about that so i wouldn’t think he will do anything PERIOD!!! I see we have a few Kool-aid drinking sheep on here well you people will wake up one day to what he is when you follow him off the cliff!!!

    • Mary

      Do I agree with everything he does, absolutely not. DO I feel the need to bash and find fault with everything he says and does, no. Everyone is so quick to jump on the current bandwagon instead of doing research of their own. Make you own judgements and stop listening to right wing propaganda. Then you will find that A LOT of the problems going on now BEGAN with Bush. Obama is a scapegoat for congress, PERIOD!!

      • j r nance (@rnance1950)

        @Mary: Obama is a Mulatto, in simple language he is Half White/Half Black so he’s not a black person but you had to throw in the Race Card even though Nobody commenting on this article has said One Single thing about him being Black except you, get over it I think everybody knows he’s a Mulatto Not Black or White!!

  • truth-hurts

    It’ all Bush’s fault right Mary.
    G W Bush Has been out of office SIX that’s right SIX years and you still blame him for everything.

    When does your man take over the reins and lead this country.
    Please tell me what he has done to fix anything and be specific.
    Watch something other than msnbc once in a while. You might learn something.
    Don’t you dare tell me obamme care works.

  • SMH

    Obama lying?? Were his lips moving?? Oh yeah. Hope all those that voted him in again are pleased that he is now dishonoring those who protect our freedoms.. .what few we have left.. I love this country… I have a son currently in the Army who has served in Afghanistan.. And I agree with truth-hurts… when does Mr Obama start to lead this country???

  • Mark Stabler

    The Secretary has been on the job for over 5 years but he needs a little time to get a grip on what is going on. What he needs is a swift move to the unemployment line. It is disgraceful that the President stands by those that he put in command and who have miserably failed the task, When you have no previous aldministrative experience it’s hard to handle the most important and complicated job in the world. It really shows.

  • Hi-Power

    truth-hurts…preach on!!! And, let’s not forget he told Putin he could do (basically what he wanted) when he was re-elected. I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime a worse President than Jimmy Carter…I was wrong.

    And, I am the Mike who started these comments, not the one who posted later. Thus, the name change…too many Mikes around. :)

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