WASHINGTON - Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki brushed aside calls for his resignation on Thursday and got an unexpected political lifeline Thursday from House Speaker John Boehner in the wake of reports that 40 patients died because of delayed treatment at an agency hospital.
"I'm not ready to join the chorus of people calling on him to step down," Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a news conference, adding that there is a "systemic management issue throughout the VA that needs to be addressed."
He said the House is working on legislation that would give head of the agency "more flexibility to fire people."
The Department of Veterans Affairs has long had a seemingly endless backlog and exceedingly long delays for treatment.
For his part, Shinseki emphasized his own determination to remain in the Cabinet in an interview on CBS. "I take every one of these incidents and allegations seriously, and we're going to go and investigate," he said.
Shinseki, a retired Army general, said in the interview that he sent inspectors to Phoenix immediately when he learned of reports about the deaths.
The White House has voiced support amid the calls for Shinseki's ouster from the American Legion as well as from Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Jerry Moran of Kansas.