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Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki / Win McNamee, Getty Images

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki made the following comments Friday after a speech about homeless veterans:

"Before I close let me address the elephant in the room today. ..

"After Wednesday's release of an interim inspector general report, we now know that VA has a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity within some of our veterans health facilities. That breach of trust involved the tracking of patient wait times for appointments. Our initial findings of our ongoing internal review of other large VA health care facilities also show that to be true.

"That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible, and unacceptable to me.

"I said when this situation began weeks to months ago that I thought the problem was limited and isolated because I believed that. I no longer believe it. It is systemic. I was too trusting of some and I accepted as accurate reports that I now know to have been misleading with regard to patient wait times.

"I can't explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our health care facilities. This is something I rarely encountered during 38 years in uniform. And so I will not defend it because it is indefensible.

"But I can take responsibility for it and I do. So given the facts I now know I apologize as the senior leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I extend that apology to the people whom I care most deploy about, that's the veterans of this great country, to their families and loved ones who I have been honored to serve for over five years now. It's the call of a lifetime. I also offer that apology to members of Congress who have supported me, the veterans service organizations who have been my partner for five years and to the American people. All of them. All of them deserve better from their VA.

"But I also know this. That leadership and integrity problems can and must be fixed. And now.

"And so I'm just announcing that I'm taking the following actions. I've initiated the process for the removal of the senior leaders of the Phoenix VA medical facility.

"We will use all authority at our disposal to enforce accountability among senior leaders who are found to have instigated, tolerated dishonorable or irresponsible scheduling practices at VA health care facilities.

"I've also directed that no VA senior executive will receive any type of performance award for 2014 this year."

"I've directed that patient wait times be deleted from VHA (Veterans Health Administration) employees evaluation reports as a measure of their success.

"We are contacting each of the 1,700 veterans in Phoenix waiting for appointments to bring them the care they need and deserve.

"And we will continue to accelerate access to care for veterans nationwide who need it, utilizing care both in outside of VA.

"We will announce the results of our nationwide audit of all VA health care facilities in the coming days. I now ask Congress to support Sen. Bernie Sanders's proposed bill giving VA secretary greater authority to remove senior leaders.

"And I ask the support of Congress to fill existing VA leadership positions that are still vacant.

"Again, this situation can be fixed. With VA, VSOs, Congress and all of our stakeholders like many of you in this room working together with the best interests of veterans at heart, we can do this in the days ahead, just as we have done over the past five years on veterans homelessness.

"We can do this."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Shinseki's statement on VA problems

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