WASHINGTON, May 30 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama announced Friday that he had accepted resignation of Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki with "considerable regret."
The President's announcement followed a morning meeting at the White House with the VA chief, who publicly apologized for systemic problems plaguing the department's health care system before the meeting.
Shinseki had been facing mounting calls to step down from lawmakers in both parties since a scathing internal report out Wednesday found broad and deep-seated problems in the sprawling health care system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.
Obama said Shinseki had served with honor, but the secretary told him the department needs new leadership and he doesn't want to be a distraction. "I agree. We don't have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem," Obama said.
The Obama administration is under increasing pressure from Congress to address troubling allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at VA hospitals.
According to the VA Inspector General's office, 42 facilities in connection with health care delays, including one where 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for treatment, are being investigated.
Amid argument on veterans' health care, Obama declared last Wednesday that allegations of misconduct at the country's Veterans Affairs hospitals are "dishonorable" and will be not be tolerated by his administration.
The president named Sloan Gibson, currently the deputy VA secretary, to run the department on an interim basis while he is searching for another candidate for the post of secretary.
Gibson joined the department in February after serving as president and chief executive officer of the USO, a nonprofit organization that provides programs and services to U.S. troops and their families, and after a 20-year career in banking.
According to an initial VA investigation report released Wednesday, delaying medical care to veterans and manipulating records to hide those delays is "systemic throughout" the Department of Veterans Affairs health system.
Investigators with the Inspector General's Office found that 1, 700 veterans who are patients at the Phoenix hospital are not on any official list awaiting appointments, even though they need to see doctors.
Meanwhile, some 1,138 veterans in Phoenix had been waiting longer than six months just to get an appointment to see their primary doctors, investigators found. "These veterans were and continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in the (Phoenix hospital's) convoluted scheduling process."
As a result, these veterans may never obtain a requested or required clinical appointment, the report alleged.
The Inspector General's Office said it is working with the Justice Department to determine if crimes occurred in how patients were handled.