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President Barack Obama announces the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki after meeting with Shinseki at the White House in Washington, May 30, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Obama says VA chief Shinseki resigns; deputy Sloan to take over

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Update 10:30 a.m.: Obama says VA chief Shinseki resigns; deputy Sloan to take over

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Friday that U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned over a veterans healthcare delay scandal that has embarrassed the administration, explaining Shinseki did not want to be a "distraction" as the problem was fixed.

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Shinseki stepped down during a meeting with the president at the White House earlier on Friday. Obama said he named Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson to lead the agency as he looks for a permanent replacement.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Susan Heavey)\

Update 10 a.m.: Veterans Affairs Chief Apologizes For Problems, To Meet With Obama

(Reuters) - Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, condemning a systemic "lack of integrity" at some VA hospitals, apologized to veterans on Friday for abuses that hid the lengthy wait times for patients to see doctors, saying the problem was worse than he thought.

The 71-year-old, soft-spoken retired Army general, who has been under pressure from lawmakers and veterans groups to step down, said he accepted responsibility for the VA's failures, initially found in Phoenix but now identified in other facilities across the country. But he did not indicate whether he would resign.

While Shinseki was speaking, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would meet with him at 10:15 a.m. EDT.

Obama, in an interview Friday on ABC, said he plans to "have a serious conversation with him about whether he thinks he's prepared and has the capacity to take on the job of fixing it, because I don't want any veteran to not be getting the kind of services they deserve."

Representative Tim Walz, a Minnesota Democrat, is among the scores of lawmakers who have called for Shinseki to step down. He told MSNBC he was respectful of the popular former general but "there need to be changes."

"Changes in leadership change the tone of where things are going. General Shinseki has done honorable work. The suggestions he's making are right, but I can tell you that the trust among the veteran community has been damaged," Walz said.

But Senator Bernard Sanders told MSNBC said he did not think Shinseki – a two-time Purple Heart recipient - should be fired.

“I think he’s a tough guy,” Sanders said. “I would like to see him be able to complete the job that he started and bring the long-needed changes to the VA that we have to see.”

In his remarks to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Shinseki announced the steps he would take to deal with the corrupt practices found at some veterans healthcare facilities, where waiting lists were manipulated to hide the length of time some veterans had to wait to see a physician.

He said he was removing the senior leaders at the Phoenix VA medical center and would use all authority at his disposal to hold accountable those "who instigated or tolerated dishonorable or irresponsible scheduling."

Shinseki said no senior executives of the Veterans Health Administration would receive performance awards this year and the use of scheduling times as a measure of good performance would be eliminated.

The VA is also taking action to ensure that the 1,700 Phoenix veterans still waiting to see a doctor would have appointments quickly, he said.

"We now know that VA has a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity within some of our veterans health facilities," Shinseki said. "That breach of integrity is irresponsible, it is indefensible and unacceptable to me."

The embattled secretary acknowledged he had been misled about the extent of the problem and expressed puzzlement at the "lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our healthcare facilities."

"I said when this situation began weeks and months ago that I thought the problem was limited and isolated because I believed that," he said. "I no longer believe it. It is systemic. I was too trusting in some and I accepted as accurate reports that I now know have been misleading with regard to patient waiting times."

"Given the facts I now know, I apologize as the senior leader of Veterans Affairs," he said, adding that the leadership and integrity woes at the VA can be fixed.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, David Alexander and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Gunna Dickson)

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