May 23rd, 2014
08:31 PM ET
7 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."

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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. Angus

    Everyone wants CEOs to take responsibility for large corporations, but the liberal media insists that Obama can't be held responsible for mismanagement on his watch. Just doesn't make sense. I guess it's all about politics as always.

    May 24, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  2. me

    No surprise. Does Obama ever take responsibility for anything? The low info idiots of this country voted for a inept egotistical fool.

    May 24, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  3. mickey

    as a us navy viet nam vet. I can tell you this is one dysfunctional agency. the greater part of this scandal is shinsecki and Obama`s fault. but a good deal of this scandal has to thrown at the feet of Jeff Miller and his house oversight committee as well as Bernie Sanders and his senate oversight committee. all the times shinsrcki was before bot committeees he was lying his ass off and not one of these committees followed up on the investigation of the VA. this only came to light because a doctor decided to be a whistle blower otherwise this would have gone on for decades.right now our government is more worried about the 20 Million illegal aliens and changing the name of a football team. GOD HELP THIS COUNTRY.

    May 24, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  4. Bill from GA

    Maybe Congress should build fewer F-35s and more hospitals.

    Really, they don't want to solve the problems, only to blame Obama.

    May 24, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  5. Rjay

    Yeah Lets blame OB for a problem that has existed for 50+ years through 5-6 Republican Presidents and Republican controlled congress. At least OB acknowledged the problem. Did you hear anything about it when Bush 1 &2 were President or when Nixon was Pres? NADA! I Swept under the carpet. Also by the Dems as well. A Bi-partisan problem. This isn't one persons fault, It the fault of no money from the budget hatchet wielding Republicans. Same old story. Money for the rich ( tax breaks, low taxes, etc) Plenty of money for Military Weapons. One jet fighter weapons would afford excellent med care to thousand of Vets. Let's build some aircraft carriers instead of getting a new hospital and staff for the Vets . Let's invade Afghanistan and Iraq and spill some young American blood, for what? Bunch of hypocrites trying to deflect false blame to OB in an election year .Nothing else, but a usual as dumb and desperate GOP move. They are worthless lying cowards and fuddy duddies and their era is over.

    May 24, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  6. smith

    The problems at the VA are decades old. So you people blamming Obama are wrong and the people blamming Bush are wrong. Bush increased funding to the VA and other veteran programs more than any president in history and Obama has followed his trend.

    May 24, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  7. Gurgyl

    Entire this VA is a biggest bs by GOP thugs. They were ignoring all these years. Let us bring VA under the purview of ACA Laws. Why they need to be privileged! For going to war, looting national treasury. Nonsense.

    May 24, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  8. warthog6

    I'm grateful that you are digging so deep, and sticking to this story every day, instead of just throwing out some drama and moving onto another topic. I hope you know how important you are, and how grateful veterans are for your help.

    I'm 100% service-connected disabled, and I'm TERRIFIED of the VA that my life depends on, and that my father's life unfortunately depended on.

    I served with a tactical Military Police Company at the US Army Infantry Center, and also in combat. I remember our Captain giving a speech in formation about how we were the FINAL LINE OF DEFENSE for lawful behavior on a base where 75,000 predators practice killing people all day. I remember the enormous sense of AWE I felt on hearing that.

    Now the job is yours. Now YOU are the FINAL LINE OF DEFENSE for lawful behavior at the VA. They are answerable to NOBODY else. The very fact that they are able to maintain a considered policy and uniform nationwide program for murdering disabled veterans, collecting bonuses, and lying to cover it up, spanning countless hospitals–this is proof that they are beyond prosecution, they are outside the jurisdiction of courts and police, and keep their own private army of police who answer to nobody but THEM.

    They are so certain of their safety, they have even ignored the media for years. ONLY now–with the constant and relentless pressure of the media, are we finally able to have the possibility of justice.

    It's all up to you now. The lives of countless veterans, along with the safety of our widows and orphans are in your hands now.


    May 24, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  9. Thomas

    Republicans love to criticize and make impulsive judgments but never fix the problem .

    The Party of No New Ideas , The Party to Cheep to take care of Americas serves men and woman .

    Always sending soldiers off to war , and never raising taxes to pay for there care .

    Jim Nicholson's record shows his lack of VA leadership under GW Bush .

    May 24, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  10. Hooper

    It seems I remember this slogan being waved around during the Bush, years of Stupidity. (If you disagree with, or bad yak the president you are unpatriotic). Many things have changed since Binky, was in office but the amount of hypocrisy in this nation has not subsided one bit. It's all okay though. As long as the people are kept abreast of the kardashian's movements, all is well wit the world.

    May 24, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  11. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Oh, and the Veterans Administration was run so well under President Bush?

    May 24, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  12. Rusty Krus

    No surprise. Does Obama ever take responsibility for anything? The low info idiots of this country voted for a inept egotistical fool.

    Sorry Ace, Bush was the inept fool.

    May 24, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  13. Marie MD

    @jez, the biggest disappointment has been the do nothing but obstruct and make him a one term president teaklans.

    May 24, 2014 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  14. Marie MD

    @mickey, you are a Vietnam vet and you are blaming Obama and his administration?
    You have got to be freakin' kidding me or your memory is long gone. How much help did you receive when you returned from Vietnam? Probably less thane Iraqi and afghan war vets.
    The whistler blower has every right to bring this atrocity to light but why now when it's been going on for decades?
    Obama increased the VA budget by $24M. The teaklans were the ones who voted against building hospitals for our veterans. What do you say about that?
    I do agree with you about the illegal immigrants (300,000 of which are European but nobody talks about those) because they are white!

    May 24, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  15. Sniffit

    Obama can do no wrong

    May 24, 2014 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  16. Thomas

    @Bill from GA
    Maybe Congress should build fewer F-35s and more hospitals.

    Really, they don't want to solve the problems, only to blame Obama.

    I don't know you , but I agree with you .

    Memorial Day is a US federal holiday wherein the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces are remembered.

    Thank you to all who have served , we as Americans need to take care of our people .

    May 24, 2014 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |

    Now that they have been CRUSHED by Turtle McConnell, can't wait to see Tom Tillis,Sheldon Adelson,Rupert Mourdoch,Rove,Grover Norquist and the GOP stuff Jeb Bush down the tea party's throats EXACTLY like they stuffed Romney down.

    May 24, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  18. Liberal_garbage

    Obama hasn't taken responsiblity for anything in 6 years. Why would he start now? Lying liberal democrat garbage.

    May 24, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  19. adam

    There is plenty blame to go around. Senators and congressmen get complaints from constituents when agencies are failing them. Obviously, they didn't do anything. John McCain HAD to know what was going on. Lawsuits are constantly be filed and settled. Sinsecki should have signed off on every one of these. How could he NOT know!

    May 24, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  20. smith

    Fact of the day-Only 29% of current GOP congress members have served in the military. Less than 1% of Dems in congress have served in the military.

    May 24, 2014 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  21. 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
    thank god for congressman Murtha from PA that brought the news media into the hospitals to show the deplorable conditions That Jim Nicholson who's friends were appointed to those cush jobs

    May 24, 2014 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  22. Name. willard

    I said warning to people or presdient obama what happenend about fraud check scam from afrcian amercian
    I want tell truth god that people are still complain against obama what about 2008
    Why people got cash fraud with check scam at bank then people are avoid vote support for obama 2008 from fraud check scam from afrcian amercian

    May 24, 2014 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  23. Joan

    Mr. Nicholson left the VA in disastrous shape. Most things were still done by paper reports. Add to that, his boss Pres. Bush sent tens of thousands of young Americans to wars that lasted more than a decade. These young soldiers have been coming home for the last five years and many have PSD which is also on the treatment list. The Congress controls the purse strings and they have been cutting government jobs and not funding the VA in line with the increased demand. There needs to be more doctors and nurses hired, present hospitals updated and new facilities built. So in light of all this, President Obama is supposed to know what some administrators are doing in local hospitals. Use some common sense. The coverage of this problem has been disappointing because it is more about whistleblowing , partisan blame games, cherry picking of facts and trying to discredit the administration rather than sensibly looking at the problems, why they have continued for decades and how it can be improved. Actually many say it has dramatically improved over the last five years compared to what it was like, but nobody wants to hear that it seems.

    May 24, 2014 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  24. CentralNJBill

    Wow, those are some SOUR grapes Nicholson is chewing on. The horror stories coming from Walter Reed, where our brave solders had roaches crawling over them as they recovered from battle wounds, should have resulted in Nicholson going to jail for cruelty, not just being allowed to resign. The only thing Nicholson should be saying is, "I'm sorry."

    May 24, 2014 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  25. Liza Floyd

    Of course this former secretary has to criticize the current Administration, because it was his Administration that sent all these people off to war with no afterthought that they would survive and need care for the rest of their lives. Of course they don't want the responsibility of that claim because that's big government. At least this VA secretary Shinsecki was man enough to serve his country and even left a portion of his body on the battlefield. Who are these imbecile doctors that kept this secret and why is there so much whistleblowing all of a sudden. Did any of these jerks tell the Secretary what was going on or did they just go to Fox News for 3 minutes of fame.

    May 24, 2014 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
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