WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama vented his anger Wednesday over allegations of misconduct at Veterans Affairs hospitals and vowed to root out anyone responsible, though he stopped short of announcing VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation over the ordeal.
"If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful and I will not tolerate it. Period," Obama said during a hastily called press conference at the White House.
"I will not stand for it. Not as commander-in-chief, but also not as an American," he added. "None of us should."
The president's remarks come a day after the VA inspector general indicated his office is investigating possible misconduct at 26 VA facilities around the country, including a Phoenix hospital where 40 veterans allegedly died while waiting for care and staff rigged record-keeping to cover up long wait times.
Obama insisted that anyone found to have manipulated or falsified records at a VA facility "will be punished," but he urged patience as the administration carries out its probe.
"I know people are angry and want swift action. I sympathize with that," he said, noting that some VA facility staff have already been put on administrative leave. "But we have to let investigators do their job. The families deserve to know the facts."
Obama met with Shinseki earlier Wednesday morning and ordered him to launch a full-scale investigation of conditions at VA facilities nationwide, with a deadline of next week for preliminary results. He also ordered White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors to conduct a broader view of the VA system, with a full report due next month. Nabors is heading to Phoenix later Wednesday to meet with VA officials there.
Asked whether responsibility for the ordeal ultimately lies with Shinseki, the president said it lies with him as commander in chief and gave a strong defense of his VA secretary's record.
"Nobody cares about our veterans more than Rick Shinseki," Obama said. "He has been a great public servant and a great warrior on behalf of the United States of America. We're going to work with him to solve the problem."
He demurred when asked if Shinseki offered to resign.
"Rick's attitude is that, if he doesn't think he can do a good job on this and if he thinks he's let our veterans down, then I'm sure that he's not going to be interested in continuing to serve," said the president.
"At this stage, Rick is committed to solving the problem."