WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama summoned the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs to the White House, amid mounting calls for the Cabinet official's resignation over a scandal over problems in the nationwide health care system for military veterans.
In a television interview aired Friday, Obama says he will ask Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki whether he is "prepared and has the capacity" to fix sweeping problems in the system. The controversy has ballooned since allegations surfaced that as many as 40 veterans may have died while awaiting care at the health care system in Phoenix.
Obama, in an interview on the television talk show "Live! With Kelly and Michael," says he doesn't want any veteran to not be getting the kind of services they deserve. A clip from the interview was aired Friday on ABC's Good Morning America.
The controversy has become a top issue in Washington, but it is difficult to predict how significant the political fallout will be or how it could affect November's congressional elections.
Shinseki, a wounded veteran himself, faces calls for his resignation from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Yet both sides have moved cautiously, sensitive about being seen as exploiting the plight of veterans for political gain.
So far, the political moves have been low-budget, mass telephone calls, web-based attacks and television commercials that will air relatively infrequently. They're likely to stay that way until it becomes clear how long-lasting the furor is.
Shinseki has spoken privately with lawmakers and met with nearly two dozen veterans groups, assuring them that he takes the reports seriously and is moving swiftly to fix problems.
The criticism intensified Wednesday after agency investigators issued a searing interim report that said 1,700 former members of the service seeking hard-to-get appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital never had been placed on the official waiting list and were at risk of being forgotten.
While initially focused on Phoenix, the investigation described Wednesday by the VA Department's inspector general found broad and deep-seated problems in the sprawling health care system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.
It is too early for a full accounting of any misbehavior at the department, which oversees pensions, education, health care and other benefits for veterans and their families.
Associated Press writers David Espo and Matthew Daly contributed to this story.