May 23rd, 2014
08:31 PM ET
7 months ago

Former VA secretary: Obama's ‘not taking responsibility’ for agency's misconduct

(CNN) – Former Veterans Affairs chief Jim Nicholson said President Barack Obama is "not taking responsibility" for the ongoing scandal that has rocked the agency under his administration's watch.

In an interview on Friday with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Nicholson also hit back at Obama’s sharp criticism of his tenure leading the VA, calling into question the former senator’s commitment to the cause when he severed on the Veterans Affairs Committee.

"He was on the committee but he never showed up," Nicholson said, appearing on "The Situation Room."

Allegations of crippling delays in care and mismanagement have sparked calls for current Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. When Nicholson took over as chief of the VA in 2005 during President George W. Bush's administration, he, too, received criticism of his leadership of the agency, notably from then Illinois Sen. Obama.

Upon Nicholson's resignation in 2007, Obama, who had announced his presidential candidacy only months before, said, "It is clear that Secretary Nicholson is leaving the VA worse off than he found it."

"That was a political statement that I expected somebody who was running for president would take a shot like that," Nicholson said of Obama’s comments. "He would never come to the committee meetings, so he really had no basis to know what was going on."

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While allegations of mismanagement have dogged the department for decades, in recent weeks, the political fallout from the scandal has heightened and many, like Nicholson, are pointing the blame at the President for a failure of leadership on the issue.

"What's happening now is the President of the United States is not taking responsibility for this and what I think the root problem is with these hospital directors is we've seen this kind of dishonesty and duplicity on the part of the President - if you like your plan, you can keep it," he said, a reference to issues surrounding the rollout of Obama’s health care law.

CNN reported in January that at least 19 veterans died at VA hospitals in 2010 and 2011 because of delays in diagnosis and treatment. Last month, CNN reported at least 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments to see a doctor at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system and that the patients were on a secret list designed to hide lengthy delays from VA officials in Washington.

Lawmaker: VA wait-list, cover-up allegations 'tip of the iceberg'

Asked whether Shinseki should resign, Nicholson said that move would be "premature," pointing to the ongoing investigations of VA facilities throughout the country.

Shinseki, Nicholson said, “is responsible, but the ultimate person responsible for this is, I think, the commander in chief. And he is the guy that ought to now be taking that kind of decisive action to see that we take care of these veterans.”

Before leading the VA, Nicholson served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and chairman of the Republican National Committee.

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.

Related: Poll: Democrats competitive in key southern showdowns

Watch The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer weekdays at 4pm to 6pm ET and Saturdays at 6pm ET. For the latest from The Situation Room click here.

soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. gonzo

    When has this president taken responsibility for anything? I voted for this incompetent in 2008, and I can't wait for him to leave! Bush was a cowboy; this guy is plain clueless. He does have the best spin machine I've ever seen.

    May 24, 2014 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  2. Matt

    Curious age we live in. Conservatives blame Obama for everything, even a former VA Chief. One would think that a VA Chief who allowed such things to go on would have some shame and some humility. No. He blames the President, who has tried to address problems, create a workable budget but has been blocked at every turn by pettiness and intransigence on behalf of men exactly like Jim Nicholson. I am tried of Republicans playing politics on important issues that need to be solved. These men, and it makes me cringe to call them that, are happy to blame and reluctant to solve even though the finger of shame points DIRECTLY at them.

    May 24, 2014 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  3. sharon

    As someone of the Viet Nam era, I can remember my parents and uncle – WWii and Korea – talking about the poor treatment the vets were receiving at VA hospitals. There have been issues for years and they need to be resolved. Even my extremely conservative brother – Nam Vet – does not lay the blame on Obama. Personnel need to be reviewed and, if necessary, terminated. I am sure there are a lot of good people working in the VA system. I just question why the doctor in Phoenix waited unti HE retired to bring up the issues. I understand mortgages, food on the table, etc but if something impacted my morals I would not have kept quiet.

    May 24, 2014 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  4. sonnie3

    hussein obama never takes blame for anything, Ya know-I never heard about it till now?? What a lie. This is his watch and is no longer 43's watch, The buck stops with our current campaigner in chief, Yours Truly hussein obama.

    May 24, 2014 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  5. sonnie3

    Name one thing that obama has taken credit for when the scandal breaks? Oh ya, he is mad as helli.

    May 24, 2014 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  6. MMECitizen

    according to the article when O was a senator he was a committee member of the VA committee.....but he never attended any of the meetings. How can you help right something is you are so disinterested you can't go to the meetings to see what is wrong? I realize this problem is decades old but for Pete's sake when you say you will do something do it. Don't no show meetings then criticise everyone from Moses to Darth Vadar for the everyone else's failure.

    May 25, 2014 02:08 am at 2:08 am |
  7. tony

    every 10 o 20yrs the us has to involve some kind of wars in order to sell or get rids of their weapons. do u think that only collect of taxes can afford the spending of our budget?

    May 25, 2014 03:36 am at 3:36 am |
  8. ProudDem

    It takes some real stones to be one of the former heads of the agency when it was going badly off the rails and say that someone ELSE is not taking responsibility. Having said that, the VA is just overwhelmed. The number of new patients went up by more than 100% while the number of new doctors only went up by 9%. I think some of the new proposals by both sides to allow vets to go to non-VA hospitals shows some merit.

    May 25, 2014 03:50 am at 3:50 am |
  9. J.V.Hodgson

    First off Mr. Rove for 2005/6 Obama would have been a junior member of the Senate majority VA committee where " awe shucks" he criticizes, does not demand resignation or impeachment of Nicholson who resigns himself in 2007. From 2006 to 2008 Obama was technically part of a minority committee, but he campaigned on better care for vets. I humbly suggest that was a pre-emptive bully pulpit far more effective than sitting a still junior member of minority committee.... how many republicans don't attend committees.... this is pathetic rhetoric and pure nonsense politics.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    May 25, 2014 05:25 am at 5:25 am |
  10. Gurgyl

    -also pass total gun-ban laws. Desperate here. Don't listen to NRA thugs.

    May 25, 2014 07:07 am at 7:07 am |
  11. HenryMiller

    Obama never takes responsibility for anything.

    May 25, 2014 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  12. WOW

    You cant try to improve the VA until those lying administrators that created fraudulent lists are terminated! Sander and Reid should allow a Senate vote on the House Bill HR 4031!

    May 25, 2014 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  13. Pete

    Just like a poster written above the VA has been the brunt of jokes since before WWII..Some say the doctors were med school rejects that were allowed to practice on injured vets.. Some including my father who served in WWII said they actually experimented doing new procedures not yet approved on injured vets some never recovering ..So don't blame Pres.Obama for something that's been going on for decades and never taken care of ..In stead of pointing fingers and blaming just fix it,plain,simple...

    May 25, 2014 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  14. Lizzie

    Obama then (2009)..."We're going to challenge each of our 57 regional VA offices to come up with the best ways of doing business, of harnessing the best information technologies, of cutting red tape and breaking through the bureaucracy. And then we're going to fund the best ideas and put them into action, all with a simple mission: cut those backlogs, slash those wait times, deliver your benefits sooner. (Applause.) I know you've heard this for years, but the leadership and resources we're providing this time means that we're going to be able to do it. That is our mission, and we are going to make it happen"
    Obama now......(Crickets)

    May 25, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  15. James R. L.

    Former Veterans Affairs chief Jim Nicholson seems to ignore that this was occurring on his watch as well.

    May 25, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  16. Danangme

    Nicholson was a lap dog for Bush and Satan while they disemboweled the V.A.

    May 25, 2014 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  17. jim

    It seems to me the defenders of President Obama have a common theme. It's the republicans fault. It's George Bush's fault. It never seems to be the president's fault.

    May 25, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  18. Mike

    A report released to the press targeting the Obama administration by a doctor working for the inspector general says Va workers are murdering vets by shredding their appointment and putting their names on death lists.

    May 25, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  19. Thomas

    @independant jim

    is this the same Jim Nicholson that was in charge when the VA had rats infesting the VA hospital in Virginia and the dirty deplorable conditions in every other VA hospital because of poor management and top Bonus money paid to the administrators that saved the most money under the GW Bush plan that was in charge when the VA .
    =========
    Yes , the same Jim Nicholson , why ?

    May 25, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  20. sifto

    I dont recall pres bush blaming clinton for everything that happened on his watch..he took responsibility..even when hilary voted FOR the war, she gets NO blame...

    May 25, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  21. Thomas

    @HenryMiller
    Obama never takes responsibility for anything.
    ===========

    Osama bin Laden might disagree with you on that !

    May 25, 2014 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  22. quinLee

    Jim Nicholson had to resign as Veterans Affairs chief in 2007 due to his poor handling of the VA. He's pissed that Obama criticized him back then. Now he's using this opportunity to strike back which is so evident as he throws in a little extra hate for the health care law. My goal here is not to defend Obama in this unfortunate fiasco (he should share the blame) but to point out the greater level of hypocrisy and uselessness coming from the right.

    May 25, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  23. don in albuquerque

    And where was our former VA Secretary while this was going on on his watch? Is he also taking no responsibility for this? Theres blame enough to go around for a whole bunch of people, and not just the current President. I guess we could do what they did with Cromwell in England several hundred years ago. Dig up all the former presidents who ignored this and mount their heads on pikes. Would that make everybody happy? Easier then fixing the problem.

    May 25, 2014 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  24. RNK

    Hillary voted for the war because Bush and Cheney et al lied to Congress and to the American people about Iraq and WMD. Bush did not blame Clinton because Clinton left a good economy and Bush destroyed it. The economy was not going down the tubes until Bush put 2 wars and tax cuts on a credit card. There were several embassy attacks during Bush's time and over 60 people died. No investigations from Congress. One attack during Obama administration, 4 people die and how much time and many millions are spent on investigations? Did any of these articles bother to mention that the Republicans in the House and in the Senate have done everything to CUT funding for embassy security and for the VA hospitals? Maybe some of the rage expressed here needs to be directed at those who caused the problem. Obama cannot demand the money and have it show up – Congress still needs to approve it. Unfortunately, under Bush the democrats never stood up to him or tried to block all the insane things he did. If the democrats had shown some spine we would not be in the mess we are in now.
    And by the way – the only way experimental procedures are used is if they have been tested in animals and then they are used as a last resort on people who have no chance of survival – then experimental procedures are seen as that one last chance.

    May 25, 2014 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
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