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President Barack Obama has accepted the resignation of Eric Shinseki as secretary of veterans affairs.
According to the Washington Post and other news organizations, Shinseki resigned Friday and took responsibility for problems within the Veterans Administration that included long wait times for care and coverups, particularly in the Phoenix VA where the lax operation may have resulted in the deaths of numerous vets.
“He is a very good man,” Obama said, according to the Post. “He’s a good person who’s done exemplary work on our behalf.”
He said Shinseki concluded that “he could not carry out the next stages of reform without being a distraction himself.”
The story is still developing, but read the Washington Post coverage here. It includes a video of Obama’s announcement.
According to The Huffington Post, Shinseki spoke on Friday morning to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans but it was prior to the president’s announcement and he made no mention of resigning. Instead, Huffington Post reports, he urged the audience to continue fighting to keep veterans off the streets. “Now is not the time to let up,” he told them. “Let’s get on with it. It is the Lord’s work.”
“I’m honored to have been in this fight for justice with all of you,” he added.
Shinseki, the first Asian American to become a United States Army four-star general, was born in Lihue, Kauai, in 1942. Many in the islands are proud of the local boy who went far. His military career included two combat tours in Vietnam, where he was wounded several times.
Civil Beat recently reported on the Hawaii’s congressional and legislative leaders’ views on the Kauai native’s role in the unfolding scandal. You can read that story here.
Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard sent out a press release shortly after the resignation was announced.
“General Eric Shinseki is an American hero,” she said. “He is a man of character and integrity, with a deep love and commitment for serving our country. … There is no question that he took his responsibility as Secretary of the VA personally and seriously, because he cares deeply for his fellow veterans, and did his best to lead a VA riddled with challenges that have existed for decades.”
“But this day is not about General Shinseki,” she said. ” This day is about all of our service members and veterans, and the tragedy that has been occurring within the VA, an organization which has lost sight of its mission. Our loyalty, anger, and hurt must be focused on taking action to ensure that not another day passes where a veteran in need remains waiting in the dark.”
Gabbard said she is drafting legislation to ensure veterans are not kept waiting for medical services, whether in the VA system or not.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, in a press release, called Shinseki “a war hero and public servant who gave everything he had to our country and the job of Secretary of Veterans Affairs.”
But “the problems uncovered are appalling and unacceptable and the VA must deliver accountability for any wrongdoing and systemic changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Schatz said.
Shinkseki’s resignation should not be seen as a sign of failure on his part, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said in a press release. Instead, he just felt he had become a distraction and that a change in leadership was needed in order to proceed effectively, she said.
“In that light, I think his resignation today is not a sign of failure, but of the same humility and dedication that he has always displayed in his years of service to our country,” she said. “I think America and Hawaii can be proud of him.”
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono had questioned Shinseki directly about the VA problems earlier this month at a hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Afairs Committee. And she met with veterans in Hawaii earlier this week.
“General Eric Shinseki’s patriotism and dedication to this nation is without parallel,” she said in a press release. “I respect the Secretary’s decision to step aside in order to avoid being a distraction. The focus should be on delivering care to our veterans and ensuring the VA has the necessary resources to accomplish that.”
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Patti Epler is the Editor and General Manager of Civil Beat. She's been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Arizona. You can follow her on twitter at @PattiEpler, email her at email@example.com or call her at 808-377-0561.