What’s the Budding Veteran Affairs Scandal Obama Got So Mad About Today?

By
US President Barack Obama delivers a statement after meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki at the White House in Washington, DC, May 21, 2014.
Obama today, not pleased.Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama called reports of slow and subpar health care for veterans “dishonorable” and “disgraceful” today in his first detailed comments on a bubbling controversy that’s not going away. Yes, that means you should probably figure out what’s going on at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and who the heck Eric Shinseki is. 

I will not stand for it — not as commander in chief but also not as an American,” said Obama after meeting with VA Secretary Shinseki in the Oval Office this morning. “I will not tolerate it. Period.”

Tolerate what?
“It” started with reports from the Arizona Republic last month that up to 40 veterans have died while awaiting treatment at a VA hospital in Phoenix, and that staffers may have tweaked wait time records to make the services look less awful. While the VA inspector general has found no evidence that the delays were responsible for the deaths, similar accusations have followed in states like Georgia, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania, putting the entire system in the cross-hairs.

Who’s attacking the president?
Well, midterm elections happen to be coming up, so guess. Republicans have led the charge against the Obama administration and called for Shinseki’s resignation. “It is time for our president to come forward and take responsibility for this and do the right thing by these veterans and begin to show that he actually cares about getting it straight,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said prior to Obama’s press conference on Wednesday.

But Democrats have spoken up, as well, with Representative Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, saying, “It’s hard, because Mrs. Obama has done so much and Mrs. Biden has done so much, and I see that as part of the president’s push. I think he’s relied on Secretary Shinseki, but we could use his personal attention at this point.”

How has Obama responded?
On Face the Nation over the weekend, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said, “The president is madder than hell, and I’ve got the scars to prove it, given the briefings that I’ve given the president,” but the angry surrogates were no longer cutting it. That’s what today’s public appearance was about.

Obama said the VA Inspector General’s office is looking at 26 facilities across the country, including the one in Phoenix. Last week, he sent deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors to report on how the VA is functioning, but until that review is complete, Shinseki’s job is probably safe. Still, Obama seemed to be distancing himself from Shinseki a bit, leaving open the possibility that he’ll eventually take the fall for what went awry.

We are going to fix whatever is wrong, and so long as I have the privilege of serving as commander in chief, I’m going to keep on fighting to deliver the care and the benefits and the opportunities that you and your families deserve,” Obama said, “now and for decades to come.”