WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama voiced outrage at an alleged cover-up of delays in treatment at US military hospitals yesterday, vowing to punish anyone guilty of wrongdoing in the scandal.
Speaking after a meeting with Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki, Obama told reporters he would not tolerate any evidence of malpractice.
“When I hear allegations of misconduct ...whether it’s allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it,” Obama said. “So if these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it — period.”
Veterans have had to wait months to see a doctor at some hospitals, and allegations have arisen that administrators at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona covered up the delays there. As many as 40 patients were reported to have died while waiting to be seen by a VA doctor.
Shinseki, a retired general and Vietnam War veteran, has faced mounting calls to resign and was subjected to a severe grilling by furious lawmakers in Congress last week. Obama pleaded for patience as the probe into the allegations was carried out. “I know that people are angry and want a swift reckoning,” he said. “But we have to let the investigators do their job and get to the bottom of what happened. Once we know the facts, I assure you — if there is misconduct, it will be punished.”
Obama has assigned a close aide, Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, to investigate the allegations. Nabors attended yesterday’s meeting with Obama and Shinseki, who has held the VA post since 2009.
Asked by reporters if Shinseki had offered to resign, Obama said that the VA chief “was committed to solving the problem and working with us to do it.” “I know that Ric’s attitude is if he does not think he can do a good job on this and if he thinks he has let our veterans down, then I’m sure that he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve,” Obama said.
Arizona’s Republican Senator John McCain, Obama’s beaten rival in the 2008 election and one of the president’s harshest critics on the scandal, criticized Wednesday’s comments as “wholly insufficient.”
“I am glad that after many weeks of refusing to acknowledge this widening scandal, President Obama finally saw fit to speak about it today, but his remarks are wholly insufficient in addressing the fundamental, systemic problems plaguing our veterans’ health care system,” the Vietnam veteran said. AFP