Obama made the announcement after a 45-minute meeting with Shinseki in the Oval Office on Friday morning to discuss whether he is capable of adequately handling necessary fixes to the department.
“A few minutes ago, Secretary Shinseki offered me his own resignation. With considerable regret, I accepted it,” Obama said.
Obama heaped praise on Shinseki, repeatedly calling him a “good man” who has served his country with honor for nearly five decades and made progress on curbing veterans homelessness, delivering health care to service members exposed to Agent Orange and who suffer from PTSD.
“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.”
Still, Obama said after talking to Shinseki, both of them agreed that “we don't have time for distractions.”
“I said we wouldn't tolerate misconduct and we will not — I said we need to do better and we will,” he said.
While Obama said he would nominate a new VA secretary, for now, he said Sloan Gibson, the agency's deputy secretary, will take on the reins as acting secretary.
The Senate confirmed Gibson as deputy secretary at the VA just three months ago. Before joining the VA this year, Gibson, a former Army Ranger was president of the USO, a position he held since 2008.
Gibson also has served as chairman and CFO of AmSouth Bancorporation and prior to that chaired the United Way campaign in Central Alabama.
The American Legion, the first major veterans organization to call for Shinseki's resignation, called his departure just a first step in addressing the problems at the VA and the broken promises to veterans.
"It is not the solution, yet it is a beginning," said the Legion's National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger. "The solution is not complete with Shinseki's resignation. Too many veterans have waited far too long to receive the benefits that they have earned."
"It was never just about a few of the top leaders," he continued. "The solution is to weed out the incompetence and corruption within the VHA and the VBA so the dedicated employees can continue to perform admirably on behalf of our nation's veterans. The American Legion's members and professional staff stand ready to assist in any way feasible.”
Just three hours beforehand, Shinseki appeared to be fighting for his job, apologizing to veterans and the American people and announcing a series of agency reforms before a friendly audience at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans annual conference.
Calling his secretary post "the calling of a lifetime," Shinseki in the speech said he was firing senior leaders at the Phoenix medical facility responsible for the misconduct involving appointment waiting lists that led to the deaths of 40 veterans waiting for care. He also suspended bonuses to senior leaders and called on Congress to support a bill to make it easier for the VA secretary to fire senior agency leaders.
Sometimes drifting into past tense when speaking about his tenure, Shinseki said he was too trusting of senior leaders who misled him about how extensive the gaming of the appointment waiting lists was. He said he was startled by the breach of integrity, which he rarely encountered in his 38-year military career.
“That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible and unacceptable to me,” he said. “Leadership and integrity problems can and must be fixed — and now.”