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Shinseki Fires Phoenix VA Leaders, More to Follow

May 30, 2014 | by Bryant Jordan, Military.com

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Friday said he is firing the top administrators of the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona -- ground zero for what Shinseki called a systemwide problem of officials manipulating patient appointment schedules.

Shinseki also said he will ask the Senate to vote on legislation granting him greater authority to fire managers across the VA responsible for what he called a breakdown in trust and integrity.

On Wednesday, the VA's inspector general issued an interim report on the Phoenix VA Medical Center that found 1,700 veterans seeking care were not put on the official electronic waiting list. VA Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin wrote that "these veterans were and continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix HCS's convoluted scheduling process."

Shinseki said recent discoveries to include the IG's report have changed his view on the leadership provided by VA executives.

"When this situation began weeks and months ago, I said I thought the problem was limited and isolated because I believed that. I no longer believe that. It is systemic. I was too trusting of some, and I accepted as accurate [a] report that I now know was misleading with regard to patient wait times."

"I can't explain the lack of integrity in some of the leaders of our healthcare facilities," he said. "This is something I rarely encountered during 38 years in uniform."

The retired Army four-star is scheduled to meet with President Obama at the White House at 10:15 a.m. to discuss the results of the IG report and the systemic problems found across the health care system.

Shinseki said he will not defend the indefensible but does take responsibility for it.

"Given the facts that I now know, I apologize as the senior leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs," he said. "I extend an apology to the people whom I care most deeply about -- that's the veterans of this great country, to their families and the loved ones I have been honored to serve."

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

Shinseki made the announcement following a speech before the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans Annual Conference in Washington.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@monster.com.