President Obama will meet with Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki and the White House deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, Wednesday morning amid an ongoing scandal over veterans' care at VA hospitals around the country. Afterward, the president is expected to speak publicly about the ongoing problems.
Nabors has been dispatched to assist Shinseki with a review of patient access to care that the secretary ordered after the scandal came to light last month. At the Phoenix VA Health Care System at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care when the hospital sought to cover up the long wait times by creating a secret waiting list and later destroying the evidence. Reports indicate that the Obama administration was informed the VA might be concealing the true amount of time veterans waited for care as early as his presidential transition at the end of 2008. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office reported on evidence of VA wait time failures as far back as 2000, while the Office of the Inspector General at the VA (the agency's internal watchdog) looked at this problem in 2005, 2007, and again in 2012.
The deputy chief of staff is set to fly to Phoenix Wednesday to meet with the acting director of the Phoenix facility, Steve Young, who was appointedwhen Shinseki placed the director and two other employees on administrative leave.
Although several lawmakers and The American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group, have called on Shinseki to resign, the administration has so far backed his decision to stay in his post and conduct an internal investigation into access to care.
But Mr. Obama has also come under pressure to speak publicly about the scandal, which he has not done since the end of April when he was traveling in Asia. On CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger said the president must speak out.
"He needs to make a statement to show the employees of VA that this needs to change now. One death is tragic. But when you hide it, that's unforgivable," Dellinger said.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough described the president as "madder than hell" about the allegations of wait time fraud in a separate interview on "Face the Nation," but also defended the administration's record on veterans care.
"The president has been an active voice for increased resources and reform at the veterans administration since he joined the veterans committee in the Senate," he said.
The House is set to vote Wednesday on a bill that would give Shinseki greater authority to fire or demote hospital directors and executives at the VA in order to improve accountability. The bill predates the current scandal that stemmed from the hospital, but was prompted in part by VA Inspector General reports that many patient care problems were caused by widespread mismanagement and the fact that bonus pay at the agency had little link to performance.
The White House "share[s] the goals" of the bill, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday, but has some concerns about the legislation.