Obama: 'We All Know It Often Takes Too Long for Veterans to Get the Care They Need'

By Susan Jones | May 21, 2014 | 11:36 AM EDT

President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, following his meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. The White House moved Wednesday to address the growing furor over allegations of misconduct at the Department of Veterans Affairs, summoning VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to an Oval Office meeting, hours before the House was scheduled to vote on a bill that would grant the secretary more authority to fire or demote senior executives.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(CNSNews.com) - "Even if we had not heard reports out of this Phoenix facility or other facilities, we all know that it often takes too long for veterans to get the care that they need," President Obama said Wednesday in his first public comments on the growing scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"That's not a new development. It's been a problem for decades. And it's been compounded by more than a decade of war. That's why, when I came into office, I said we would systematically work to fix these problems, and we have been working really hard to address them."

The president noted that he served on the Veterans Affairs Committee when he was a U.S. senator -- "and it was one of the proudest pieces of business that I did in the legislature."

Bringing the VA system into the 21st Century "is not an easy task," Obama said. He also touted the "progress" made during his presidency -- including record levels of VA funding, expanding the number of veterans eligible for disability benefits, improving care for women veterans, reducing homelessness among veterans, and helping millions pursue higher education, training, and jobs.

"The point is, caring for our veterans is not an issue that popped up in recent weeks," Obama said. "Some of the problems with respect to how veterans are able to access the benefits that they've earned -- that's not a new issue, that's an issue that I was working on when I was running for the United States Senate.

"Taking are of our veterans and their families has been one of the causes of my presidency, and it's something that all of us have to be involved with and have to be paying attention to."

Obama said his deputy chief of staff -- who's been dispatched to the Phoenix veterans facility on Wednesday -- will help him understand what is working, what is not working -- "and I want specific recommendations on how VA can up their game."

Obama also said he welcomes Congress as "a partner" in oversight, to address the current controversy and to make sure the nation is living up to its obligation to veterans across the board.