President Barack Obama is planning a "serious conversation" with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki about whether he will be able to stay in his job, but continues to praise him as an "American hero" who has veterans' best interest at heart.
Obama, in a prerecorded interview with morning talk show hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan on their "Live! With Kelly and Michael" program Friday, said he plans to ask Shinseki if he is "prepared and has the capacity" to deal with the VA's growing scandal concerning waiting times for veterans.
"He's going to report back to me about what he's seen," Obama said in response to a question from Strahan. "I don't want any veteran not to get the kind of services they deserve."
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Shinseki, who was scheduled to address a group for homeless veterans Friday morning, is facing increased calls for his resignation, with key Republicans saying the former general is on his way out
Strahan, a former pro football star, told Obama that his father is a retired military major, so he is concerned about benefits for him and other veterans. While Obama didn't directly answer Strahan's question about whether Shinseki will resign, he emphasized that his administration is doing more or "as much for our veterans as any administration in history."
He told Strahan and Ripa that his administration has increased funding and the number of mental health professionals for the VA, as well as expanded the post-9/11 GI bill to allow more returning veterans to expand their educations.
But he admitted it's been difficult for veterans to get the medical care to which they are entitled.
"The VA for a long time has had a problem with backlogs," Obama told Ripa and Strahan. Once veterans are able to get into VA facilities, they are happy with the care they get, but "just getting in the system has been a problem."
Obama said his "greatest honor" is serving as commander in chief, and that members of the military "have earned not just our respect, they've earned our support when they come home."
The interview, taped in the Blue Room at the White House, was scheduled to allow Obama to expand on the recent "White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit," but went on to discuss a wide variety of questions from the sometimes awestruck talk-show hosts.
It included a plug for Obama's former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who he described as a close friend who would be "very effective" if she would be elected as president.
He also said he does not expect his wife to ever seek political office, saying that if in 10 years she came to him and expressed political ambitions, "I would say, 'Where did you take my wife?' One thing I can promise you, Michelle will not run for office."
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