Obama to speak about Veterans Administration problems soon

WASHINGTON Mon May 19, 2014 7:30pm EDT

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WASHINGTON May 19 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is to speak out soon about reports of healthcare delays at the Veterans Administration in an effort to underscore his determination to fix any flaws in the system.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Monday they would "hear from him at some point on this issue soon," and other officials said he was likely to comment on it before leaving on a trip to New York state and Chicago on Thursday.

Eric Shinseki, head of the Veterans Administration, has faced increasing calls for his resignation over allegations that delays in treatment at veterans hospitals could have led to otherwise preventable deaths.

Obama has resisted the demands, insisting he has full confidence in Shinseki's ability to straighten out the problems. He has assigned a top White House aide, Rob Nabors, to help the department get to the bottom of the problem.

A top department official, undersecretary of health Dr. Robert Petzel, resigned on Friday in a move critics said was an effort at damage control.

Petzel's resignation came a day after he appeared alongside Shinseki, a retired four-star general, at a congressional hearing about accusations that VA medical facilities in Phoenix covered up long wait times for patients, including 40 who died while awaiting care.

The VA has put three senior officials in Phoenix on administrative leave after doctors there said they were ordered to hold veterans' names for months on a secret waiting list until a spot opened up on an official list that met the agency's two-week waiting time goals.

Allegations have been made about similar cover-up schemes at VA medical facilities in at least seven other cities. The agency runs the largest U.S. healthcare group, overseeing some 1,700 hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other facilities.

Carney credited Shinseki with implementing policies Obama wants aimed at providing benefits to veterans, and said if anyone is held accountable for the problems, this will likely result from an investigation being conducted by an independent inspector general. (Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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