WASHINGTON — The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday that he will not resign, but acknowledged he has work to do to rebuild the confidence of veterans.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, Eric Shinseki said his department will strive to improve its communication and work with veterans advocacy groups, but highlighted what he said were positive changes he has made while heading the department.
“I serve at the pleasure of the president,” he told the Journal. “I signed on to make some changes, I have work to do.”
On Monday, the head of one of the nation’s major veterans service organizations said Shinseki and top department leadership to step down following reports of delays and neglect that contributed to patient deaths at several VA facilities, including in Phoenix, where a secret wait list apparently was used to cover delays in appointments.
The VA, the VA’s inspector general and the House Committee on Veterans Affairs are conducting reviews of the Phoenix VA.
“As a result of what’s under way in Phoenix, I’m very sensitive to the allegations,” Shinseki told the Journal. “I need to let the independent IG complete his investigation.”
American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said Monday the incidents “are part of what appear to be a pattern of scandals that has infected the entire system.”
He also called for the resignations of Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey.
Some key Republican legislators had joined the call of two prominent veterans groups for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
On Tuesday, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a member of the Veteran’s affairs committee, said Shinseki should leave the VA.
“He needs to step down,” Cornyn told reporters. “The president needs to find a new leader to lead this organization out of the wilderness, and back to providing the service our veterans deserve.”
In a Senate speech earlier in the day, Moran said Shinseki seemed unwilling or unable to fix the department’s problems.
“Veterans are waiting for action and yet the VA continues to operate in the same old bureaucratic fashion, settling for mediocrity and continued disservice to our nation’s heroes,” Moran said. “There’s a difference in wanting change and leading it to happen.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., meanwhile, didn’t demand Shinseki resign, but said new leadership at VA would “be a step in the right direction.”
Concerned Veterans for America on Monday joined with the Legion in calling for Shinseki to resign.
Dellinger said it saddened him to demand the resignations, and he praised Shinseki’s patriotism and sacrifice for the country while serving in the military.
“However, his record as the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs tells a different story,” Dellinger said in his prepared remarks. “It’s a story of poor oversight and failed leadership.”