Obama on VA allegations: ‘It is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it’

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As he struggles to contain the political damage from the widening VA scandal, President Obama met with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki on Wednesday and emerged to say he’s pushing for quick, decisive action — but critics say it’s another example of his employing strong rhetoric without actually firing anyone.

Mr. Obama, who has dispatched his deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, to Phoenix to investigate claims that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care, struck a passionate, sometimes angry tone during remarks in the White House and broke his silence on the issue by calling accusations of VA misconduct “dishonorable” and “disgraceful.”

SEE ALSO: Veterans groups blast Obama’s remarks on VA scandal: ‘Tremendous disappointment’

“There is going to be accountability” if those charges prove true, the president said, while also leaving the door open to fire Mr. Shinseki at a later date. Some lawmakers and powerful groups, such as the American Legion, have called for the secretary to be removed from his post and criticized Mr. Obama’s reaction Wednesday as insufficient.

“I know he cares about [veterans issues] deeply, and he has been a great public servant and a great warrior on behalf of the United States of America. We’re going to work with him to solve the problem, but I am going to make sure there is accountability throughout the system,” Mr. Obama said.

But the president’s strong words thus far haven’t been matched by action, with the exception of ordering a full investigation into claims VA officials kept false records to hide lengthy wait times at their facilities.

Republicans are seizing on issues at the VA which, when combined with the administration’s measured response, offer further proof that this president, known as careful and deliberate in his actions, reacts too slowly in situations where heads ought to roll quickly.

They cite the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, the Benghazi affair and other incidents where Mr. Obama failed to act swiftly and decisively by firing those responsible.

“The IRS scandal, the NSA breach, Benghazi, the failed rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the botched Fast and Furious operation, and now what is nothing short of malfeasance at the VA are symptomatic of a president unable to skillfully lead our country,” said Rep. E. Scott Rigell, Virginia Republican.

SEE ALSO: Obama transition team was told about 3 audits showing VA misreported wait times

“President Obama will be in office another 21/2 years. For the sake of the country, I call upon him to do what a true leader would do: hold his key executives responsible for their performance.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, also said Wednesday that it’s time for “serious action and accountability” in addressing problems at the VA.

In a statement Wednesday that also expressed disappointment at Mr. Shinseki continuing in his position, the American Legion chided the president for mere words.

“Words are nice, and even somewhat comforting, but when will the VA’s house be cleansed of those who are soiling it and dishonoring the system?” questioned Daniel M. Dellinger, the Legion’s national commander.

The VFW spoke similarly, saying in a statement that the president still needs to “hold people appropriately accountable and restore faith in the VA.”

Thus far, the only real change at the VA came when the department’s undersecretary for health, Dr. Robert Petzel, resigned last week.

But he had announced more than six months ago, long before the current firestorm was ignited, that he would retire soon.

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