President Obama on Wednesday morning will receive a briefing on treatment delays, secret waiting lists and a series of deaths at Veterans Affairs hospitals from the secretary of the embattled department and a senior aide dispatched to conduct an internal review of the damning allegations.
Obama will meet with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and deputy White House chief of staff Rob Nabors in the Oval Office Wednesday to discuss the VA controversy, which has left the White House on the defensive over the president's handling of the situation.
The president hasn’t publicly spoken about the VA problems in more than three weeks, though the White House insists he will soon make remarks about delays in care that reportedly have led to the deaths of at least dozens of veterans.
And now 26 facilities nationwide are under investigation for treatment delays and falsifying records, the VA’s Office of Inspector General said late Tuesday.
Nabors will travel to Phoenix Wednesday to meet with the head of the VA health care system there. Allegations recently surfaced that 40 veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix facility and that workers there concocted a secret waiting list and tried to destroy the evidence.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough also heads to Capitol Hill Wednesday to meet with Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.
The White House contends that Obama is waiting for more answers before prematurely weighing in on the VA firestorm. However, Republicans — and a growing number of Democrats — are questioning why the president has waited so long to weigh in on a scandal creating doubts about his governing skills.
Conservatives are painting the president as aloof, comparing his handling of the VA problems to his delayed response to the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups and revelations about National Security Agency surveillance techniques.
“If the president truly did not know about these scandals and mistakes, we should doubt his ability to properly manage the leviathan government that he helped create,” House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy said.
Obama accepted the resignation of the VA's top health official last week, although the employee was already scheduled to retire in 2014. But the White House has stood behind Shinseki in the face of growing calls for his ouster.
Obama’s meeting with Shinseki and Nabors Wednesday morning is closed to the press. White House aides have described Obama as “mad as hell” about the allegations, even though he has waited to express such sentiments publicly.
“He is not at all pleased with some of the allegations and will be extremely unhappy if some of them prove to be true,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. “But he will wait for the facts and the investigations, as we all should, and then insist that action be taken and people be held accountable.”