UPDATED AT 11:41 a.m. with Cantwell’s statement:
WASHINGTON — Eric Shinseki’s resignation as secretary of Veterans Affairs Friday was greeted with grim welcome by members of Congress from Washington state, several of whom had recently called for Shinseki’s departure.
The lawmakers made clear the resignation by itself does not address the systemic problems within the veterans agency that ballooned into a national scandal over excessive wait times for medical appointments, a shortage of doctors and performance incentives for VA officials that may have led to concealed records on appointment times.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, in a statement, thanked Shinseki for his four decades of service to the nation. He also called for a criminal investigation of VA employees who may have been involved in doctoring scheduling records and other mismanagement.
“Anyone who thinks a mere rotation of who sits in the chair as the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs is going to solve this problem is badly mistaken. The problems here are deeper, broader, more stubborn, and require more efforts. “
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray — who like Heck had not previously demanded Shinseki’s resignation — echoed the need for meaningful changes.
“There are serious problems at the VA that won’t be solved simply by replacing the Secretary, but I am hopeful that this leadership change will spark structural, cultural, and personnel changes, from the top of the organization to the bottom, to make sure our veterans are getting the care and support they expect and deserve,” Murray said in a statement.
Murray is a former chairwoman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a long-time advocate on veterans issues.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat who had not publicly demanded that Shinseki step down, said Friday President Obama was right to accept the resignation.
“I thank Secretary Shinseki for his service to his country, but we need new leadership at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The priority must now be getting veterans access to the care that they need and have earned. Significant systemic problems remain at the VA,” Cantwell said.
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, issued a statement saying he also accepted Shinseki’s decision to resign.
“While I believe General Shinseki could have made progress toward eliminating deceitful scheduling practices and reducing patient wait times, the country needs to shift its focus to providing our veterans with timely health care,” Larsen said.
But many congressional Republicans and growing ranks of Democrats have been calling for Shinseki to quit. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, for instance, has said leadership – including Obama – should be held accountable.
Shinseki, an Army general who was wounded in Vietnam, gave up his VA post after a string of lawmakers publicly lost their faith in his tenure following Wednesday’s release of a scathing report by the VA’s inspector general. On Thursday evening, Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, issued a joint news release saying the time had come for Shinseki to step down.
Rep. Adam Smith of Bellevue, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, also had earlier called for Shinseki to leave.
Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Seattle lamented Shinseki’s depature. Shinseki, McDermott said, had “the most unenviable job in Washington, D.C.”
“I did not, at any point, call for Eric Shinseki’s resignation and I do not believe that his departure will accelerate the crucial, urgent process of addressing the issues at certain facilities within the Veterans Affairs hospital system,” McDemott said in an email from his press secretary. “Under General Shinseki’s leadership, veterans’ homelessness fell by 24 percent; the VA health care system enrolled 2 million additional veterans and thanks to modernization efforts, the backlog of disability compensation claims was reduced by about half.”
RELATED STORY: Shinseki resigns amid veterans’ health care issues