VA Chief Eric Shinseki Resigns: A Timeline Of How The Crisis Unfolded
On Friday, President Obama held a meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, during which Shinseki offered his resignation to Obama. This followed the recent healthcare scandal that has raised considerable questions about the treatment of veterans. Obama accepted Shinseki's resignation "with considerable regret," according to a statement from the White House, noting that the leadership does "not have time for distractions," and that they "need to fix the problem."
General Shinseki was first appointed the secretary of the department in 2009, and his job has never been an easy one. The VA, an organization first created in 1921, has been riddled with charges of inefficiency, poor management, and corruption since its inception, and during Shinseki's tenure, these problems did anything but fade. And now, with one of the biggest scandals to ever rock the VA, the longest-serving secretary in the history of the department has been ousted, with no clear end in sight for the problems that led to his departure.
With only five years under his belt, the fact that Shinseki has held the position for longer than any of his predecessors speaks volumes about the difficulties and issues associated with the VA. Here's a look back not only at the events that led to Shinseki's resignation, but also at the torrid history of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
1921 — Veterans Bureau established
Where it all began. Under President Warren G. Harding, Congress established the Veterans Bureau, headed by Colonel Charles R. Forbes. The organization was meant to assist World War I veterans with issues like healthcare, much like today. However, the Bureau was quickly embroiled with scandal, as it was discovered that Forbes created corrupt contracts that affected hospital operations, and that he had managed to embezzle $200 million from the government.
1930 — Veterans Administration replaces the Veterans Bureau
Following this scandal, the Bureau was dissolved and President Herbert Hoover combined several previously independent organizations meant to help veterans into a single department: the VA. Its budget stood at $786 million and served 4.6 million veterans.
1945 — VA Administrator resigns after problems with hospitals
History has a way of repeating itself in the VA, it seems. President Harry Truman accepted the resignation of Administrator Frank Hines after reports broke detailing the poorly run hospitals meant to serve veterans.
1946 — The American Legion first demands the removal of a VA Administrator
The American Legion managed to avoid the ill-timed wrath of Sen. Richard Burr in his controversial open letter last week, and it seems that this veterans group has a habit of calling for the resignation of VA heads. After General Omar Bradley failed to appropriately address issues with lack of facilities and limited access to services, the veterans service organization asked him to step down.
1947 and 1955 — Government commissions find serious problems in the VA
Problems that apparently still haven't been fixed. In the space of a decade, the VA was twice chastised for wasteful practices and poor care that adversely affected veterans' lives.
1972 — Ron Kovic first makes headlines
The Vietnam veteran famously interrupted Richard Nixon's acceptance of his party's nomination for the presidency, saying
I'm a Vietnam veteran. I gave America my all, and the leaders of this government threw me and others away to rot in their VA hospitals.
Two years later, Kovic led a hunger strike to protest the poor treatment of veterans in VA-run hospitals.
1984 — Where did that $40 million go?
After a decade of accusations that the VA did not provide adequate healthcare, particularly in terms of Agent Orange, an herbicide used in Vietnam that later caused many veterans health problems, the Washington Post reported that VA officials refused to spend $40 million meant to help Vietnam veterans. A few years later, it was discovered that almost 100 doctors at VA hospitals had sanctions against their medical licenses.
1989 — The Department of Veterans Affairs is officially created by President Reagan
In the 25 years since the birth of the department, it has never managed to keep a clean record. Failure to treat patients promptly, ignoring test results, and a lack of appropriate resources were only a few of the issues cited as contributors to some veterans' deaths. Equipment was not properly cleaned, leading to infection, viruses were passed around by doctors who failed to wash their hands, and in 2011, there was an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease that caused the deaths of at least five veterans. It was later discovered that hospital had evidence that the facility was contaminated in 2007, but did nothing.
January 2014 — Shinseki's nightmare begins in earnest
CNN reported that at least 19 veterans died between 2010 and 2011 due to hospital delays.
April 2014 — The Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System and the "secret waiting list."
CNN reported that at least 40 veterans never made it off a doctor's waitlist to receive care, leading to their deaths. A retired VA doctor and other sources told the media that these patients were on a "secret waiting list" meant to mask huge delays in the system. President Obama subsequently called for an investigation into the situation.
May 5 — Veterans groups call for Shinseki's resignation
American Legion National Commander Daniel Dillinger said the deaths in Phoenix reflected a "pattern of scandals that has infected the entire system."
May 9 — A damning email surfaces
Now moving out of Phoenix, an email was discovered in a Cheyenne, Wyoming branch of the VA, in which a VA employee speaks of "gaming the system a bit" in order to deal with waiting times. The day before, a scheduler in San Antonio, Texas admitted to "cooking the books" to hide long waits. A few days later, employees in Durham, North Carolina admitted similar practices.
May 15 — Shinseki is "mad as hell."
The embattled secretary told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that the scandal made him "mad as hell," and that he was doing all he could to address the problem.
May 28 — Scandal grows
According to CNN, a preliminary report by the VA's inspector general showed that nearly 2,000 veterans who attempted to land an appointment with a doctor were never even scheduled, nor placed on a waitlist in Phoenix.