President Barack Obama had no choice but to accept Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. The VA inspector general’s interim report issued this week contained too many damning findings of “systemic” problems that grew under Shinseki’s watch. Key among these was the finding that the actual VA primary care wait times in Phoenix averaged 115 days—more than four times the VA’s previously reported average of 24 days. That discrepancy revealed a gap between reality and official reporting, and suggested questions about the VA’s integrity ran all the way up to the secretary’s office.
More broadly, the growing VA scandal cast doubt on the ability of the government to deliver health care, a major Obama administration priority. If the White House could not deliver on this promise to veterans, a key constituency for whom the president and vice president have frequently described health care as part of a “sacred trust,” then how could the administration be trusted to provide care for all Americans? Coming after the legal and practical challenges to the Affordable Care Act, the White House could not afford another health care failure. And so Shinseki had to go.
Unfortunately, his departure will do little to fix the broader problems in the massive VA health care system—and may even set the quasi-leaderless agency back as it waits for a new secretary to be appointed and confirmed.