May 15th, 2014

How can Obama still have confidence in Shinseki? WH chief of staff answers

(CNN) – President Barack Obama is standing by Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who is under fire after veterans died waiting for appointments at VA hospitals.

“Shinseki has dedicated his life to the armed forces of the United States, to the defense of this country,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said in an interview with CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

But it was Shinseki who put out a new order saying that any new applicants to the VA for primary care need to be seen within 14 days. Many critics wondered at the time if the VA was capable of meeting that target. Several VA hospitals are now under fire for cooking the books on wait times.

So why is Shinseki not held accountable?

“You saw him go before Congress to (answer) a series of very difficult questions. But you also see him travel the country every day to talk to vets and their families. He holds himself accountable to his men and women with whom he served, whom he led for decades,” says McDonough.

The top White House aide listed several accomplishments under Shinseki’s watch, including tackling the backlog of VA claims, and the “dramatic expansion” in claims for post-traumatic stress and for veterans seeking compensation for Gulf War illness or exposure to Agent Orange.

“Shinseki is the first secretary of the Veterans Administration who said, you know what? I am going to put a clock on myself. Not only am I going to make these tough decisions. I’m going to put up a scoreboard and hold myself to account,” says McDonough.

But some lawmakers want more. Senators say there is ample evidence that federal crimes may have been committed in the expanding VA hospital scandal. Senator Blumenthal said the FBI needs to be brought in to ensure no evidence is destroyed.

Asked why the Justice Department is sitting on the sidelines, McDonough said the VA inspector general is “digging into it.”

For more of our interview with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, check out the video above.