(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."
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.
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.
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