President Barack Obama today made his strongest statements yet against the alleged cover up of a secret wait list at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, stating that if the claims are true, he will hold individuals accountable.
"When I hear allegations of misconduct, whether allegations of covering up wait times or cooking the books, I won't stand for it," Obama said during a special news briefing shortly after noon Wednesday. "Anybody found to have manipulated or falsified records has to be held accountable."
However, he did not call for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki, who will conduct a nationwide investigation of VA facilities--not just the system in Phoenix, where the allegations first surfaced. Obama said he expects preliminary results of the investigation next week.
In addition, Obama called for a comprehensive review of the VA's approach to access of care, including what's working, what isn't and specific recommendations for the VA to "up their game." He expects the final report next month.
Obama said it's too early to know whether the deaths of any of the veterans on the alleged wait list are linked to a delay in treatment. "We have to find out what happened," he told reporters. "I don't want to get ahead of the investigation."
However, he noted that based on the preliminary investigation, the inspector general did not see a link between veteran deaths and wait times. "Generally the wait times were for folks with chronic conditions, seeking their next appointment, not necessarily emergency services," Obama said. "That doesn't mean the wait times aren't too long in some facilities. We need to find out what happened and how we can realistically cut some of these wait times."
Meanwhile Obama said he wants the VA to reach out immediately to veterans who are currently waiting for appointments so they can receive better, more timely services.