Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apologized Friday for the scandal over delayed treatments at a Phoenix, Arizona veterans hospital, announcing he was removing senior leaders at the troubled facility and eliminating this year's performance bonuses.
"I can't explain the lack of integrity among some of the [VA] leaders," he said. "I will not defend it because it is not defensible."
Speaking before a supportive audience at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in Washington, the embattled former U.S. Army general also called for Congress to pass legislation granting him greater authority to remove subordinates from office. The House overwhelmingly passed such a bill last week, and a similar measure is picking up bipartisan support in the Senate.
Shinseki did not, however, offer his resignation as many in Congress have demanded in the wake of a scathing inspector general report that found inappropriate scheduling practices that concealed substantial treatment delays at veterans hospitals.
The secretary is expected to give the president an update on a review he has been conducting at the White House on Friday morning.
More of Shinseki's remarks from the Associated Press:
Shinseki, appearing before a homeless veterans group for a speech Friday morning, apologized for the scandal, saying "I was too trusting of some" in the veterans health care system.
He used the appearance to announce that he has taken action to remove "the leaders" of the Veterans Administration hospital in Phoenix, where there have been allegations of delayed treatments and possibly as many as 40 deaths.
"We now know that VA has a systemic, lack of integrity" within some of its facilities around the country, Shinseki said in the speech just blocks from the White House.
"I can't explain the lack of integrity among some of the (VA) leaders," he said. "I will not defend it because it is not defensible."
Shinseki got a warm reception.
Obama's comments came in an interview airing Friday on the television talk show "Live! With Kelly and Michael." A clip from the interview was aired Friday on ABC's Good Morning America.
In his speech, Shinseki focused on efforts his department has undertaken for homeless veterans, calling it a success and saying that "it's a never-ending story here that needs to be told, re-told and told well."
He said the VA had managed to get thousands of veterans off the streets.
"We have turned the tide," he said, saying the department has reduced veteran homelessness by 24 percent since 2013. Government estimates have said there are roughly 750,000 homeless veterans.