U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki addresses reporters after testifying before a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on VA health care, on Capitol Hill in Washington May 15, 2014. Credit: Reuters
President Barack Obama expressed anger on Wednesday about delays in care for wounded U.S. veterans, saying he will begin next week to get answers from investigations into what went wrong and who to hold accountable.
"When I hear allegations of misconduct, any misconduct, whether it's allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it, not as commander in chief, but also not as an American," Obama said after meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Obama said Shinseki is committed to helping fix the problems at VA hospitals "at this stage" but left open the option that Shinseki might eventually step down over the issues.
Among the allegations: reports that doctors at the facility in Phoenix were ordered to put veterans' names for months on a secret waiting list until a spot opened up on an official list to make the waiting times appear shorter.
40 patients died while awaiting care.
Top Obama aide Rob Nabors is scheduled to travel to Phoenix later on Wednesday to visit the medical facility at the center of the controversy and meet with veterans and their representatives.
Three senior officials in Phoenix were put on administrative leave, and two top health officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs have resigned. Some veterans' groups and other critics are pressing for Shinseki to step down, but Obama has stood firmly behind him.
Similar allegations have been made other veterans' medical facilities, and on Tuesday CNN reported 26 were under investigation.
The network cited the VA's Office of Inspector General, adding that the inspector general told a Senate committee last week there were 10 facilities under investigation.
VA officials could not be reached for immediate comment.
Shinseki was grilled at a Senate hearing last week where Democrats joined Republicans to demand stronger action to fix problems at the VA.
Shinseki told the lawmakers he was "mad as hell" about allegations of schemes to mask waiting times, but said the VA would wait for its inspector general to complete its investigation before acting on the Phoenix allegations.
Allegations have been reported about similar cover-up schemes at VA medical facilities in at least seven other cities. The agency runs the largest U.S. healthcare group, overseeing some 1,700 hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other facilities.