President Obama touted the newly passed Veterans Affairs reform bill Thursday as he signed the measure into law and lamented the scandal that triggered it.
But a review of records by Fox News shows the president – despite the urgency he placed publicly on the crisis – only met one-on-one with then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki once during the scandal.
The records, provided through a Freedom of Information Act request, showed they met on May 30, the day Shinseki resigned.
VA records show Shinseki also attended Cabinet meetings on Jan. 14 and Jan. 22.
The revelation comes as lawmakers, on the heels of passing the bill that Obama signed Thursday, press the president to commit his administration to fixing the department.
“I am pleased President Obama has finally recognized what we have been telling administration officials for years: that VA’s widespread and systemic lack of accountability is jeopardizing the health of veterans and contributing to all of the department’s most pressing problems,” Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “But I sincerely hope the president views this event as more than just a photo-op or speaking engagement.
“Instead, it should serve as a wakeup call. … In order to prevent history from repeating itself, President Obama must become personally involved in solving VA’s many problems.”
The VA has confirmed that at least 35 veterans died while awaiting appointments at VA facilities in the Phoenix area, while 24 died at other locations blamed on delays in care.
Now that Shinseki is gone, there is pressure on new VA Secretary Robert McDonald to fix the systemic problems there.
To help, the president signed the $17 billion bipartisan compromise legislation designed to address some of the issues revealed during the scandal.
Obama, during the signing ceremony, noted in addition to hiring new doctors and nurses, and allowing some veterans the ability to see private doctors, it will allow McDonald to fire incompetent senior executives.
"If you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover-up a serious problem, you should be fired period. It shouldn't be that difficult,” the president said at the bill signing. “And, if you blow the whistle on an unethical practice or bring a problem to the attention of higher ups, you should be thanked."
Some veterans groups are emphasizing this is an important first step, but more work needs to be done.
“We are expecting [McDonald] to hold his senior leaders accountable. And in turn, that will roll down hill and his senior leaders will then hold mid-level managers accountable who will then hold employees accountable,” Louis Celli, legislative director at the American Legion, told Fox News in an interview.
And Pete Hegseth, with Concerned Veterans for America, expressed the concern that Washington will be eager to turn the page.
"Congress will be tempted to wipe their hands of this, go to the Election Day and say ‘we've done our part’ and that’s where groups like ours, Concerned Veterans for America, veterans across the country have to keep the heat on them to say this is just the start. VA is not fixed,” Hegseth said.