American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 30, 2014 - President Barack Obama said today that "with considerable regret" he has accepted the resignation of Eric K. Shinseki as secretary of veterans affairs.
Sloan Gibson, who has served as deputy VA secretary for the last three months, will head the department in an acting capacity until a permanent successor takes office.
"Ric Shinseki has served his country with honor for nearly 50 years," the president said. "He did two tours of combat in Vietnam -- he's a veteran who left a part of himself on the battlefield. He rose to command the 1st Cavalry Division, served as Army chief of staff, and has never been afraid to speak truth to power."
As VA secretary, Obama said, Shinseki presided over record investments in the nation's veterans -- enrolling 2 million new veterans in health care, delivering disability pay to more Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, making it easier for veterans with post-traumatic stress, mental health issues and traumatic brain injury to get treatment and improving care for women veterans.
At the same time, he added, Shinseki helped to reduce veteran homelessness and assisted more than 1 million veterans, service members and their families pursue their education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
"So Ric's commitment to our veterans is unquestioned," Obama said. "His service to our country is exemplary. I am grateful for his service, as are many veterans across the country. He has worked hard to investigate and identify the problems with access to care, but as he told me this morning, the VA needs new leadership to address them."
Shinseki's resignation comes as revelations unfold of practices at VA medical facilities that have masked delays in veterans receiving health care with prescribed time limits. "He does not want to be a distraction, because his priority is to fix the problem and make sure our vets are getting the care that they need," Obama said. "That was Ric's judgment on behalf of his fellow veterans, and I agree. We don't have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem."
Gibson, now the acting VA secretary, has devoted his life to serving the nation and its veterans, the president said. "His grandfather fought on the front lines of World War I," he added. "His father was a tail-gunner in World War II. Sloan graduated from West Point, earned his Airborne and Ranger qualifications, and served in the infantry. And most recently, he was President and CEO of the USO, which does a remarkable job supporting our men and women at war, their families, our wounded warriors and families of the fallen."
The president said he told Gibson that reforms in getting veterans the health care they deserve cannot wait.
"We're going to do right by our veterans across the board, as long as it takes," he said. "We're not going to stop working to make sure that they get the care, the benefits, and the opportunities that they've earned and they deserve. I said we wouldn't tolerate misconduct, and we will not. I said that we have to do better, and we will. There are too many veterans receiving care right now who deserve all of our best efforts -- and an honest assessment if something is not working."
Obama noted that he has visited recently with men and women in uniform at different stages of their service, including the newest Army officers at their U.S. Military Academy graduation, troops currently serving in Afghanistan, and veterans and military families at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.
"And what I saw is what I've seen in every single service member, veteran, and military spouse that I have had the privilege to meet -- a selfless, clear-eyed commitment to serving their country the best way that they know how," he said. "They're the best that our country has to offer. They do their duty. They expect us to do ours.
"So, today," he continued, "I want every man and woman who's served under our flag to know -- whether your tour has been over for decades, or it's just about to end -- we will never stop working to do right by you and your families."