May 23rd, 2014
08:31 PM ET
6 years 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."

Dem 2014 candidates want VA chief out

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. Gurgyl

    --all this VA bs is so nonsensical. Why not they come just like ordinary citizens. Why are they privileged? These idiots are spewing venom so harshly. Very pathetic. These guys are free-loaders–not unemployed nor poor people of America. Vote out all these republican trash in next election.

    May 23, 2014 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  2. Chris

    ""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.""

    I didn't attend the meetings either but it was pretty obvious there were serious problems with the VA while you were in charge and they only got worse, not better. Instead it sounds like this was just your opportunity to get in some snide remarks. Obvious really, when you consider this guy is the former Republican Party head. Looks like the election propaganda machine is running.

    May 23, 2014 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  3. jez oh peete

    Im afraid Obama has been a big disappointment.

    May 23, 2014 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  4. reggie53

    That is typical of Barack Obama....he does not take responsibility for any of his failures. We should have known from when he was a Senator when he voted present over 100 times without committing himself to anything. Also, in this article it is said that he never attended the meetings of VA Committee....what does that tell us about him...he is a total loser and does not deserve to our president. I am ashamed to have this man to be our president and he should be ashamed of himself. Poor excuse of a human being!!!!!!!!

    May 23, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  5. Pete

    I guess our President is supposed to micromanage all these supposedly intelligent people that were brought in to fix these issues.

    May 23, 2014 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  6. David Lundin

    The former Chairman of the RNC is critical of Obama.

    What a shock !

    May 23, 2014 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  7. ww

    Obama has handled this issue like he handles other issues. He doesn't.

    May 23, 2014 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |

    I watched the Senate hearings on his conformation during the Bush Administration,He didn't even know that the VA didn't have enough money to get thru the year,The Senators got money approated for the VA that he didn't even know he needed,He was a political hack before getting the job,If you don't believe me look it up,The VA has been in trouble for many years not just the last 5,If the general is fired then everyone under him should be fired also including the people running the VA centers,I have been retired since 77 and wouldn't no way go to them because the one in Middle Tenn. had to borrow DR's from the hospitals,Do you think they are going to send their good ones there,I had 2 BIL's that had to deal with the VA in the 80's and the outcome wasn't good,One set there 6 hours and they never found his record.

    May 23, 2014 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  9. pchelp, Juneau, AK

    So does Nicholson claim that he was responsible for the VA's many screwups when he headed the agency? Of course not! That's Obama's fault too! Forget Nicholson-he's not worth interviewing, much less reporting on.

    May 23, 2014 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  10. DJ Reality

    It is a very sad thing anymore that no one in Washington takes any responsibility for the problems we have in this nation. Plus no one wants to to anything to fix our problems. They just like to point finger at the other guy and say it is all his fault, Democrats and republicans both have to step up and do the right thing. And boy that is going to be near impossible anymore. It is such a shame to how un-affective they all have become. Why do we even vote these useless individuals into office?

    May 23, 2014 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  11. Bill Davis

    It is Bush's fault.

    Obama always votes present,

    May 23, 2014 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  12. Guardian of Truth

    Nicholson can hardly be the one to accuse President Obama of duplicity given his party affiliation as well as the appointing authority who gave him two patronage jobs he was eminently unqualified to hold. I don't recall reading about Nicholson complaining about the duplicity of his former boss, Bush, who ran our economy and military into the ground.

    May 23, 2014 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  13. Nodack

    Great more political vendettas. Like there isn't enough of that going around.

    May 23, 2014 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  14. p smith

    If these problems existed for decades why is all this being piled on President Obama? Could it be that that is what everyone is just use to doing.
    What did past administrations do that this has carried forward?

    May 23, 2014 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  15. rs1201

    So, what else is new?
    It's our Commander in Chief not taking responsibility for anything....again!!!!

    May 23, 2014 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  16. txan

    So this worthless GOP hack is trying to dodge the bullet by blaming the President. Please...

    May 23, 2014 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  17. TLORop

    Yes everything is Obama's fault.

    May 23, 2014 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  18. Jim Jeffcoat

    Despite being a Liberal and a Democrat, I think Obama's handling of this issue is disgraceful. What is going on here? I"m immensely disappointed in the President when it comes to the VA. If Nicholson is to be believed (and I DO believe him), Obama has dropped the ball in the past regarding the VA and it appears that he continues to do so. I"m immensely disappointed. This is why Democrats like me choose not to vote – it appears nobody is minding the shop.

    May 23, 2014 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  19. pkfops01

    LOL.....this guy is just too funny.

    May 23, 2014 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  20. Jaws3119

    Once again, Obama knows nothing about the screw up at the VA. He seems to be the only president who knows nothing about everything.

    May 23, 2014 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  21. Koumintan

    What do you except from President Obama's act on every occasion. "I did not know" He does know what is his job is after years acting like president of America. All he does is give you a big smile! Yes that is what you get when you vote without knowing who you are voting for. America deserve him.

    May 23, 2014 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  22. not really news

    Sour grapes from a man who obviously failed.

    May 23, 2014 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  23. rob

    Oh, this guy get a big beat down from the NYT and the other supine lapdog last millenium liberal media outlets. No one gets away with critisizing this administration.

    Very sad.

    May 23, 2014 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  24. Jane

    I agreed with the comment until I read who made it. Typical Gopper.

    May 23, 2014 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  25. ED1

    Our no leader in charge will not take any responsibility for anything unless he can blame somebody else Obama makes -0- mistakes.

    Obama was informed about the problems with the VA in 2008 he has no excuse period.

    May 23, 2014 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
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