Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki addresses the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans on May 30 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apologized to veterans but insisted that systemic problems in his department “can be fixed” during an emotional speech before supporters on Friday morning.
“We now know that VA has a systemic and totally unacceptable lack of integrity within some of our veterans health facilities,” he told attendees at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans annual conference. “That breach is irresponsible, indefensible and unacceptable.”
In response to recent outcry against the department, Shinseki announced plans to begin the firing process for senior leaders at the Phoenix VA health system — ground zero for the care delay scandals— and to withhold bonuses for all department health leaders this year.
He reversed previous opposition to a measure which would make it easier to fire senior VA executives. He also promised an overhaul of the department’s wait time record systems.
And he vowed not to repeat the mistakes, if he is given a chance to continue his work as secretary.
“I was too trusting of some,” he said. “I can’t explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our health care facilities.”
The moves come after weeks of controversy for the department, including calls for Shinseki’s resignation from more than 100 members of Congress. Shinseki was scheduled to brief the president Friday morning on the results of an internal audit of veterans medical appointment wait times, and to discuss his job status.
But his reception at the homeless advocates conference was warm and welcoming, with standing ovations for his new initiatives and past work on getting veterans off the streets.
Shinseki has repeatedly said he does not plan to resign, despite the public outcry over the department’s failings, but acknowledged that VA officials must “repair the trust” between the public and his department.