Obama: Any misconduct at VA will be punished

Obama: Any misconduct at VA will be punished

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

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. 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. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

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by Aamer Madhani and Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

WCNC.com

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 11:33 AM

Updated Wednesday, May 21 at 11:44 AM

WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Wednesday called allegations that government officials falsified data to hide how long veterans were waiting to see doctors "intolerable" and "disgraceful" and vowed to hold those responsible accountable if the charges prove true.

"I will not tolerate it, period," Obama said.

Obama added he won't stand for people covering up long wait times or cooking the books. Obama has ordered a broad review, but is also asking for patience while investigators get to the bottom of what happened.

The president spoke to reporters shortly after meeting at the White House with Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki and White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, who has been tasked by Obama to help the VA chief conduct a nationwide review of VA hospitals' policies.

The president said that he expected a preliminary report from Nabors and Shinseki this week.

Shinseki, who is facing calls from the American Legion and Republican lawmakers to resign, and Nabors are set to travel to Phoenix to speak to hospital officials. Reports there that workers were hiding delays in wait times for doctors' appointments first surfaced several weeks ago at that facility and spurred the current furor.

Obama offered a measured endorsement of Shinseki, noting that retired general has put his "heart and soul" into the VA, but also said that he wanted to see the results of the investigation.

Obama's comments are unlikely to tamp down growing GOP criticism over the VA scandal.

Ahead of the president's statement, the office of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, took aim at Obama, charging that his rhetoric on fixing problems at the VA--which for years has faced criticism over the long wait times that U.S. veterans have been facing to have their disability claims process--hasn't been matched with action by the administration.

Going back to his first run for the White House, Obama vowed to improve veterans health care, even calling it a "moral obligation."

"The Obama administration says the president is "madder than hell" at the widespread mismanagement of the VA health care system across the country, as all Americans are right to be," the speaker's office said in a statement. "But the administration's failure to resolve these problems is a far cry from the personal responsibility he promised.

The White House has sidestepped questions about when Obama learned about the depth of the problems at the VA, which has also drawn scorn from GOP lawmakers.

"Over the years, the Administration has been faced with one scandal, misstep, or governmental failing after another," Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP whip, said in a statement. "And when each new report of ineptitude surfaces, the Administration's response time and again is "we didn't know."

An internal VA memo from 2010 that was disclosed at a congressional hearing last week, showed officials warned of inappropriate scheduling practices to cover up long waits for veterans four years ago.

During recent testimony before Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, the then-Veterans Health Administration chief Robert Petzel said that a face-to-face audit of all 151 VA hospitals and all the major clinics would be completed at the end last week. He added that the rest of the VA's 820 clinics would be reviewed this week.

But at this point, the VA and the White House should have a better understanding of the size of the scandal.

Their pattern has been to deploy auditors, and where problems are identified, to call in the inspector general to investigate--with the possibility of placing certain employees on administrative leave.

Last Friday, acting VA acting inspector general Richard Griffin told the committee his office was already looking at 10 facilities. On Tuesday, the IG said that number had more than doubled to 26

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