Updated 10 a.m. | Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apologized for the scandal rocking his department Friday, but he did not resign ahead of a meeting with President Barack Obama this morning.
"I apologize," to Congress, the public and to the veterans, Shinseki said — calling the findings of systemic shortcomings in VA health care unacceptable.
"Leadership and integrity problems can and must be fixed, and now," he said, announcing a series of changes that include plans to remove any leader who tolerated deception in scheduling practices.
Obama said in a taped interview airing this morning on "Live With Kelly and Michael" that he plans to have a "serious conversation" with Shinseki about whether he has the capacity to fix the VA's problems.
"I don't want any veteran to not be getting the kind of services they deserved," the president said. Shinseki — speaking to advocates for homeless veterans, who gave him repeated standing ovations — sought to buff his record by pointing out his work reducing homelessness for veterans and making improvements to veterans' health care since he took over in 2009.
But he said he was caught by surprise by the scope of the VA scandal and believed the wait list problem had been isolated, rather than systemic.
"I was too trusting of some," Shinseki said.
He said he was removing the leadership of the Phoenix VA, and other leaders who tolerated the scheduling deceptions that the inspector general determined were systemic.
Shinseki also said he would not give bonuses this year to senior health leaders in the VA.
Then he asked for help, including from Congress.
He called on Congress to pass legislation authored by Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., that would give him more authority to fire senior leaders. (The House has already passed its own legislation that the administration has declined to endorse.)
Shinseki also asked Congress to help him fill vacant VA positions quickly.
The nomination for the top VA health official is among those pending in the Senate.
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