Embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has offered his resignation to President Barack Obama, who said that he has accepted it, "with regret."
While praising Sinkseki for his service, CNN reports that in a White House briefing with reporters, Obama said Shinseki felt his presence had become a distraction in moving ahead with fixing problems in the massive health system that serves the nation's veterans. The Associated Press reports Sloan Gibson, currently the deputy VA secretary, will run the department on an interim basis while the search begins for a permanent replacement.
Speaking earlier Friday to a veterans group, Shinseki said he underestimated the depth of problems in the VA system. The retired Army general also apologized to veterans and Congress. Some veterans have died during long delays in medical care, and it has recently come to light that at least one hospital tied employee bonuses to patient wait times.
DFL U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan was the first in the Minnesota Congressional delegation to call for Shinseki to step down. Later, other Democrats also said that Shinseki had to go. Later Reps. Tim Walz, Collin Peterson and U.S. Senators Al Franken urged him to step down. MinnPost reported that after Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Erik Paulsen called on him to step down on Thursday, eight members of the Minnesota delegation — all except Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison — were on the record calling for his resignation.
Klobuchar released a statement Friday calling the falsified documents and long wait times "extremely disturbing," adding, the problems are "inexcusable and need to be fixed immediately."
"General Shinseki is a man of great courage who has devoted his life to serving our country, but as I said yesterday, the VA needs new leadership and I am glad the President accepted his resignation," Klobuchar says. "The VA now needs to take immediate and forceful action to address the systemic problems plaguing the VA health care system and ensure our veterans get the care they need and deserve."
She says she is supporting legislation making it easier to replace officials that were found responsible for mismanagement and mistreatment of veterans.
Calls for Shinseki’s ouster have come from many Republicans, including Minnesota Reps. John Kline and Michele Bachmann. Politico's analysis said that Republican lawmakers plan to blame Obama for the problems as a campaign issue heading into midterm elections.
A Vietnam veteran, Shinseki sustained an amputation of part of a foot from a landmine explosion while serving as a forward artillery observer.