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Obama: Misconduct at VA hospitals will be punished

PHOENIX — President Obama said Wednesday that he would not tolerate misconduct at Veterans Affairs facilities in Phoenix and other cities, allegations which have been growing for weeks.

“If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful and I will not not tolerate it, period,” Obama said at the White House.

The president made his remarks a day before one of his top advisers, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, visits the Valley to look into the accusations of corruption.

The VA inspector general has called for reviews at 26 facilities across the country. In Phoenix, more than three dozen veterans are believed to have died while waiting for treatment. The staff at that office has been accused of manipulating records to cover up wait times.

“Anyone found to have manipulated or falsified records at VA facilities has to be held accountable,” the president said. “… Not only do I not want them getting bonuses, I want them punished.”

The agency’s top medical officer, Dr. Robert Petzel, resigned last week, several days after he said there didn’t appear to be any misconduct in Phoenix.

Three Phoenix officials were placed on leave earlier this month.

“We have to let the investigators do their job,” Obama said, adding that he wanted to know the scope of the problems.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki spent much of last week defending himself and his staff on Capitol Hill.

“Rick Shinseki has a been a great soldier … nobody cares more for our veterans than Rick Shinseki. He’s taking it very seriously,” Obama said.

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a statement after Obama’s press conference:

“While I am glad that after many weeks of refusing to acknowledge this widening scandal, President Obama finally saw fit to speak about it today, but his remarks are wholly insufficient in addressing the fundamental, systemic problems plaguing our veterans’ health care system.

“According to the latest reports, 26 VA facilities nationwide are now being investigated, and this Administration’s ineffectual response has created a crisis of confidence in our veterans’ community.

“We need answers, leadership and accountability, none of which we’ve seen from the Obama Administration to date. Further, Congress must act to address the systemic problems at the VA by giving its leaders greater ability to hire and fire those charged with providing care, and by giving veterans far greater flexibility in how they get quality care in a timely manner.”

Junior U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also released a statement:

“The president’s comments do little to take the sting out of the revelation that the VA’s inspector general is now investigating 26 veterans’ health facilities nationwide. It is becoming clear that scheduling irregularities were not confined to the Phoenix VA, but appear to be part of a system-wide problem within the VA. I question how such a growing scandal could have gone unnoticed, and whether the inspector general has sufficient resources to handle the widening probe.

“While we await the results of the investigation into what took place in Phoenix, I believe individual investigations will need to be coupled with a thorough, systematic review of the entire VA.”