VA chief apologizes, says he was too trusting of subordinates

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Friday apologized for the scandal embroiling his agency amid questions over whether he will be replaced in the coming days. 

“I apologize as the senior leader of Veterans Affairs,” he said at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans 2014 conference Friday morning. "That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible and unacceptable to me."

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"I also offer that apology to members of Congress who have supported me, to veteran service organizations who have been my partners for five years, and to the American people.  All of them, all of them deserve better from the VA."

Shinseki is set to meet with President Obama at the White House this morning to give him “an update” on the situation at the VA, according to the White House.

The meeting comes amid widespread speculation that Shinseki could be fired by the president.

Shinseki accepted some blame on Friday for the problems, saying he had been too trusting of subordinates.

"I was too trusting of some, and I accepted as accurate reports that I now know to be misleading with regard to patient wait times,” he said.

“I can't explain the lack of integrity amongst some of the leaders of our health care facilities. This is something I rarely encountered during 38 years in uniform.

“And so I will not defend it, because it is indefensible. I can take responsibility for it, and I do,” he said. 

“So given the facts I now know, I apologize as the senior leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I extend that apology to the people I care most deeply about, and that's veterans of this great country, to their families and loved ones who I have been honored to serve for over five years now — it's the call of a lifetime.” 

Shinseki said Friday that initial findings from an internal review directed by the president also showed long waits for care at VA facilities, and that some waiting lists had been doctored to make it appear waiting times were not as long.

“I said when this situation began weeks to months ago, that I thought the problem was limited and isolated because I believed that. I no longer believe that. It is systemic,” he said.

Shinseki said he was directing his agency to fire senior leaders at the Phoenix clinic, and that bonuses would be suspended for senior executives of the Veterans Health Administration in 2014.

He said he would announce the results of a nationwide audit of all VA healthcare facilities in the coming days. 

Shinseki also asked Congress to support a proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would give the VA secretary greater authority to fire poorly performing senior officials. 

He added that there were also many vacant leadership positions at the VA and asked Congress for help filling those.

"Again, this situation can be fixed," he said. "We can do this in the days ahead."

This is the first time Shinseki has spoken publicly since a damaging VA inspector general report was released Wednesday showing that employees at a VA clinic in Phoenix doctored wait times, which were an average of 115 days for a first appointment.

Since then, about a dozen Democrat senators have called for him to resign.

This story was updated at 9:57 a.m.