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. Larry L

    Gee what a shock! A former Chairman of the Republican National Committee talking smack about the President. Ironic that he is also a former VA Secretary and did nothing to fix the problem while he was in the office. His term didn't even have to face the flood of new Veterans from the two wars his President started.

    May 23, 2014 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  2. No one cares

    Yup, everyone else's fault. The commander of blame!!!

    May 23, 2014 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  3. Coffee Party

    Why the heck should Obama take responsibility when the GOP in Congress are the ones who down-voted Democrat plans to build nearly 20 new VA hospitals and clinics while increasing funding?

    May 23, 2014 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  4. rjsenterp

    A president who's been out to lunch since he took office. Worst president ever.

    May 23, 2014 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  5. Yeah Right

    You know, as someone who makes use of the VA I actually applaud the president for not reacting so swiftly on this. It is not nearly as bad as people are making it out to be at the VA. In this "instant gratification" world sometimes we actually need to get all the facts before we pull the trigger.

    May 23, 2014 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  6. Penguin

    The furor over the inappropriate means of making it look like the veterans are getting to see a doctor within 14 days is just a smoke screen to hide the real problem- Congress' failure to fund the VA sufficiently to hire more doctors to treat the thousands of soldiers needlessly sent to an unnecessary war and who were not provided with vehicles to withstand the roadside bombs. Face the facts- our nation wasn't' prepared to enter and occupy Iraq after we bombed the h... out of it. And whose fault was that? Not Obama.

    May 23, 2014 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  7. KG

    Our President takes responsibility for nothing but is more than happy to take credit for what others have started. The man is the worst president we've had since LBJ.

    May 23, 2014 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  8. Derek

    obviously Obama knew about some of these problems in 2007 and since then has done nothing. The guy probably gets pushed around by the White House janitor.

    May 24, 2014 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  9. Tigrr

    Typical corrupted government, out to lay blame instead of immediately fixing the problem. Dump both Parties. They are bought and owned by corporations and a little mid-east country. See Veterans Today for what's going on.

    May 24, 2014 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  10. Jeff

    Really? You people voted for this idiot twice?

    May 24, 2014 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  11. James

    ...Yeah Un Huh .... I see what your doing, deflecting ...it's an easy bet this also happened on your watch "Former Veterans Affairs chief Jim Nicholson"!! so go ahead and take some of the credit while you're pointing fingers – point one at yourself..

    May 24, 2014 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  12. Jeremy

    This blame game of blaming the president on everything is getting quite old.

    May 24, 2014 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  13. Greg Hewitt

    Oh, I see. Lets see who I can blame for my failure. You were the VA in Arizona.. Blaming someone else for your failure is typical Republican strategy.

    May 24, 2014 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  14. steve the great

    Well, it does appear that this administration has been lacking leadership,integrity and honesty. Why change now?

    May 24, 2014 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  15. Kay

    Sooooo the President should have known that this particular VA was cooking the books? This is a bit of a stretch. Heck everyone of Bernie Madoff's investors should have known what he was doing BUT he did such a good job that it was hard to find. Ultimately the burden is on the President to correct the issues now that they have been found, however, he is not to blame for this mismanagement, the local VA director is. The VA director should have had an eye on this and ensured it never happened. There are so many fish in the food chain that are responsible prior to the President. Now that these issues have been discovered he is responsible to ensure this does not continue to be an issue. That begins with firing the people in charge.

    May 24, 2014 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  16. Thomas

    Jim Nicholson is the former US Secretary of Veteran Affairs, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

    BUSH ? BUSH ? BUSH ?

    May 24, 2014 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  17. Old Salt

    I'd expect no less from the "Former chairman of the Republican National Committee"... The VA had it's problems 'prior' to President Obama.. They (the VA) tries to find a reason not to pay for services instead of move forward with the service "while they checking eligibility".. The IRS is doing that now.. A tax return is filed by the tax payer. they assume you're telling the truth and either they pay or you pay.. If your return doesn't fit the matrix they have for similar incomes and jobs they preform an audit...Time saved and a happy taxpayer..

    May 24, 2014 01:39 am at 1:39 am |
  18. K

    Worst president ever!!!!

    May 24, 2014 02:29 am at 2:29 am |
  19. Tim

    So Obama was on the Veteran Affairs committee and never showed up to meetings. One more proof that Obama doesn't care about our fellow veterans. Thank God I have insurance through my employer and don't have to rely on the VA.

    May 24, 2014 02:35 am at 2:35 am |
  20. Marie MD

    Let me think here for a moment . . . . VA has been a mess since the 1960s.
    The teaklans (repugs in the early 2010s, they are all the same now) and their lying shrub #43 sends thousands of Americans to fight a lie of WMDs war in Iraq. They cut back on veteran money for hospital and care of wounded vets, shut down the government and had the balls to show up at the WWII memorial for picture and hypocritical handshake time when they were the cause of the shut down of our national parks and they are now blaming Obama (who, BTW, voted against the war)?
    Most of these vets are not getting the help they so desperately need because the teaklans just care about wars not what happens to the men and women who serve.
    If you are a veteran or in the armed forces throw the bums out by voting against the most right wing obstructionist bunch of cowards ever assembled in congress! Talk is cheap. Going to war is costly in so many ways!

    May 24, 2014 06:26 am at 6:26 am |
  21. teleprompter

    It's not a matter of taking responsibility. The real issue here is that the VA is single payer. Ring a bell with anyone ?

    May 24, 2014 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  22. Hector Slagg

    Do Tell,
    When someone is hired for a job he is expected to do the job. When you never show up or totally ignore the job you should be fired, no more no less. To say Obama is inept is a kindness. He told us he was the one we were waiting for. Really?

    May 24, 2014 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  23. Rick McDaniel

    Obama NEVER, takes responsibility for ANYTHING. He is a spineless man.

    May 24, 2014 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  24. Anthony

    Allegations of mismanagement have dogged the VA for decades, says the article. So, Jim Nicholson, you were a VA secretary under George W. Bush. Did you take responsibility when you were in charge of the VA? Did you call on Bush to take responsibility? Did you call on the Congress to take responsibility for its failure to oversee the VA?

    May 24, 2014 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  25. Chris-E...al

    0bama should just step down and get 0ut of the way and just let Biden try his hand as a leader .

    May 24, 2014 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
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