RI lawmakers react to VA Secretary’s resignation

This May 15, 2014 file photo shows Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Department of Veterans Affairs says it will allow more veterans to obtain health care at private hospitals and clinics. Shinseki announced the change Saturday. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

(WPRI) – The Veterans Affairs Agency is under new leadership, following the resignation of embattled secretary Eric Shinseki late Friday morning.

President Barack Obama said he accepted the retired four-star general’s resignation “with considerable regret” during an Oval Office meeting.

Shinseki had been facing mounting calls to step down from lawmakers in both parties since a scathing internal report out Wednesday found broad and deep-seated problems in the sprawling health care system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.

Obama said Shinseki had served with honor, but the secretary told him the agency needs new leadership and he doesn’t want to be a distraction.

“I agree. We don’t have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem,” Obama said.

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed calls the situation at the Pheonix VA Hospital appalling, and says anyone who took part in covering up wait times should be prosecuted. On Friday, Reed praised Shinseki’s long service to the country, but said he made the right decision to resign.

“I think he came to the appropriate conclusion that he could not personally be the best leader of the VA to fix this situation, it must be fixed,” he said.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said he looked forward to new leadership at the VA, and said he’s heard nothing but praise for the Providence VA Hospital.

“Veterans who get their care there regularly are quick to come to its defense, and there have been no allegations made about the Providence V-A Hospital, it has cleared its audit,” Whitehouse said.

Congressman David Cicilline also weighed in, saying in a statement that he was relieved that Shinseki had decided to resign.

“General Shinseki has served our country with honor.  He is a respected and decorated war hero.  Nonetheless, the revelations that senior officials deliberately hid long wait times for Veterans seeking medical care and that these ‘inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout the Veterans Health Administration’ are unconscionable,” the statement read in part.

The president named Sloan D. Gibson, currently the deputy VA secretary, to run the department on an interim basis while he searches for another secretary.

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