US President Barack Obama sought to head off a growing furor over US military veterans’ healthcare, deploring allegations of misconduct at veterans hospitals and saying that his administration would not tolerate it.
The Obama administration was under mounting pressure on Wednesday from the US Congress to address allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at hospitals run by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The VA Inspector-General’s office said late on Tuesday that 26 facilities were being investigated nationwide — up from 10 just last week — including a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for treatment and staff there kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide delays in care.
“I will not stand for it — not as commander-in-chief, but also not as an American,” Obama said following an Oval Office meeting with embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The controversy has risen to become a top issue in Washington. The treatment of military veterans is an emotional issue that resonates with a wide spectrum of US citizens, particularly in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that grew unpopular as they dragged on.
Shinseki, a retired US Army four-star general, is facing calls for his resignation from some US legislators. Obama spoke warmly of Shinseki on Wednesday, saying the secretary had poured his heart and soul into his job, but said there would be accountability if the allegations of misconduct were proven to be true.
Obama spoke just hours before the US House of Representatives voted to approve a bill granting the VA secretary more authority to fire or demote senior executives. The White House has said it shares the goals of the House measure — to ensure accountability at the VA — but has concerns about some of the details.
The bill now goes to the US Senate.
Obama’s statement marked his first public comments on the matter in more than three weeks. Last week, he dispatched Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to the VA to oversee a review of department policies and ordered him to report back to the White House next month.
US Senator John McCain, a military veteran, said Obama’s comments were “wholly insufficient in addressing the fundamental, systemic problems plaguing our veterans’ healthcare system.”
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