Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday amid widespread troubles in the VA health care system.
President Barack Obama said he accepted the resignation with "considerable regret" after an audit submitted by Shinseki shows that the problems are not limited to a few VA facilities but to many across the country.
"It is totally unacceptable," President Obama said. "Our vets deserve the best; they've earned it."
Shinseki's resignation comes two days after a scathing internal report found broad and deep-seated problems in the health care system that provides care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.
The scandal first surfaced when a whistleblower alleged that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments in a VA hospital in Phoenix, NBC News reported.
Employees at that location allegedly kept a secret waiting list and followed a system of falsifying appointment records in order to keep up with the 14-day standard set by the VA.
"How is it that in a number of these facilities if, in fact, you had veterans waiting too long for an appointment, that that information didn't surface sooner so that we could go ahead and fix it, " Obama asked.
San Diegan James Root is one of the veterans who have raised issues about getting timely access to health care.
Root, a retired Petty Officer, claims he is not getting the medical attention he so desperately needs from the Veteran’s Administration San Diego Health Care System.
Fighting in four tours of duty – including Desert Storm and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom – has cost the 47-year-old.
He suffers from PTSD, severe back problems, a possible cancerous growth on his lip and what he and his wife call the VA’s misdiagnosis of warts on his knuckles.
“They hurt,” Root said, looking down at the warts. “You want to just cut them off.”
He said he’s tried to do just that with a razor blade.
In early May, Root tried to get an immediate appointment with a dermatologist for the problem. The closest appointment he could get was on July 15.
When asked if he’s getting a hero’s treatment these days, Root said, “No, it’s substandard.”
The San Diego VA Medical director said they’ve been recognized by their accrediting body as a top performing institution.
“We try to see most patients within a 14-day period, but that’s not always possible. Specialty services like dermatology aren’t always able to get immediate appointments,” the director said in a phone interview last week with NBC 7.
According to officials, the San Diego VA sees about 75,000 patients a year.
Before his resignation, Shinseki had begun the process of firing people and had canceled performance bonuses, the president said.
Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson has been named acting VA secretary.
It would be up to the Justice Department to determine whether there was any criminal wrongdoing, the president said.