A RARE AGREEMENT
It is not often that we agree with Speaker of the House John Boehner…on anything. But this week he stood firm for the personality and the abilities of Eric Shinseki, President Obama’s Secretary of the Veterans’ Administration.
Putting aside the apparently indisputable facts of mismanagement and corruption at the V.A., it is important to hear a sane, cautious voice among the animals shrieking for Shinseki’s head due to what are systemic problems in various V.A. hospitals across the country. “I’m not inclined,” said Boehner, “to ask for this man’s head. I think the problem is systemic, and you don’t get changes just by removing one man at the top and then settling back” waiting for improvement.
What has brought the milling throngs of ravenous Republicans to stand howling outside a V.A. hospital in Phoenix is the alleged “secret” list of veteran applicants for care and counseling whose lives have either been changed, or indeed lost. These lists purport to show that nearly all applicants have (a) either already been interviewed, or (b) scheduled for an incoming interview for care, counseling, rehabilitative exercises and prosthetics. According to the press, what in fact has happened is that in several V.A. centers around the country, records have been kept that are false. A double system of book-keeping, in effect, has been developed to demonstrate that Veterans applying for appointments for aid and comfort have been scheduled or indeed held – all this falsification is reputedly tied to bonuses workers at V.A. hospitals can make by speeding up the entire process that allows a needy vet entry into a system designed to assist them in extremis.
America has known for years that the Veterans Administration and its huge system of healthcare and hospitals is months, if not years, behind the requests for assistance from needy veterans. Leaders of the agency have been exchanged with regularity but very little good has followed these personnel alterations. And, too, with Iraq and Afghanistan as background, the need and number of applicants for assistance has exploded.
Historically, the VA has grown well-beyond its expected role. With dozens of hospitals and hundreds of thousands of veterans of all wars needing more than comfort – often food, clothing, homes, jobs, psychiatric direction – the VA has grown beyond the point of being able to deliver such services to anyone with regularity and speed.
If Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey can be believed, he did not know what his underlings on staff were doing, thinking, or planning. And his bailiwick is peanuts compared to Shinseki’s.
When General Shinseki was elevated to the directorship of the V.A, he came to that desk after daring to tell Congress and the Secretary of Defense in power during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Donald Rumsfeld, that the number of Americans needed in both countries after both conflicts drew down was huge. This was not what the Big Boys wanted to hear. Mr. Rumsfeld ignored Shinseki’s career, visions, and advice, and threw him overboard as being somehow too weak to continue to serve as Secretary of the Army.
Strangely enough, during confirmation hearings on his qualifications to direct the V.A., Shinseki was able to persuade members of Congress to vote him into his new position unanimously. Unanimously. They had read his resume. They were impressed by his knowledge, courage, and vision.
And they, like Mr. Boehner, should still be full of confidence in Shinseki who himself admits to the systemic abuses of the V.A. But he also admits to wanting to repair the system, and – thinking of his estimable career – is probably the only American commander who can do so.
No governmental organization can be up and running effectively, frugally, and with immediate success, witness the roll-out of Obamacare. To expect a forcibly retired Army leader to enter a room, spot miscreants, reorganize the failing organization within a blink of the eye is not only ridiculous, it is beyond the realm of possibility. Whoever heads the V.A. can expect two things: instant criticism (some of it justified) and nearly complete lack of support from above.
If one wants to know more about Shinseki and his abilities, Google him. You’ll be amazed at the incremental successes and hierarchical progress of one of our few Japanese-Americans warriors.
Shinseki may not have the personal charisma needed now to ward off politicians determined to make hay out of his agency’s embarrassment and discomfort. But as you read his resume, it’s difficult to imagine any other US General as capable, thorough, or more highly motivated than he is.