Several GOP lawmakers also are seeking Shinseki’s resignation, as are Georgia Reps. John Barrow and David Scott, who on Wednesday became the first Democrats to call for the secretary to step down. Barrow is facing one of the most challenging re-election fights of any House Democrat.
Shinseki, a retired Army four-star general, did not appear with the president publicly Wednesday. While Obama spoke of the secretary warmly, saying he had put his “heart and soul” into improving care for the nation’s veterans, he added that there would be “accountability throughout the system” if the allegations are proved true.
The White House’s more immediate concern appears to be quickly getting the results of the VA’s internal reviews of the hospital troubles. Shinseki is due to give Obama a preliminary report next week, with a broader review being overseen by White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors scheduled to wrap up in June.
Nabors, who also took part in the Oval Office meeting with Shinseki, headed to Phoenix on Wednesday to meet with staff at the VA hospital that is at the center of the allegations.
The current director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, Sharon Helman, has been placed on leave while the VA’s inspector general investigates the claims raised by several former VA employees. Investigators probing the claims say they have so far not linked any patient deaths in Phoenix to delayed care. A report is due in August.
Last year, Helman was awarded a $9,345 bonus in addition to her $169,000 annual salary. Shinseki rescinded the bonus on Wednesday, the VA said. A spokesman said the bonus had been awarded through an administrative error.
Two Republican senators have introduced legislation to prohibit payment of bonuses to employees at the Veterans Health Administration through next year. Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Deb Fischer of Nebraska said the VA should focus its spending on fixing problems at the agency, “not rewarding employees entrenched in a failing bureaucracy.” Burr is the senior Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Fischer is on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Both have called for Shinseki to step down.
The House passed a bill in February that would eliminate performance bonuses for the department’s senior executive staff through 2018.