While Gen. Eric Shinseki obviously had to go as head of the scandal-ridden Department of Veterans Affairs, there is danger that the public might think the problems there are solved. They aren’t. Not even close.
In fact, the scope and depth of the problems have not yet even been fully identified, as several investigations are proceeding.
But if Washington works the way Washington usually works, the sacrifice of one of President Barack Obama’s longest-serving advisers may push the outrageous VA story out of the nation’s headlines, at least temporarily. That would be a tragedy.
This story is far bigger than Eric Shinseki. It is a shameful tale of deceit and treachery that led to shadow lists and huge backlogs and there is plenty of blame to go around.
Shinseki was the leader of the department for five years and his inattention to understanding how the organization he managed actually worked -- or didn’t -- was at the heart this particular colossal failure. That he was astonished when the massive conspiracy to hide poor performance within the veterans medical system was revealed tells us all we need to know about the general’s detachment and his ability to manage a nonmilitary organization.
But let us not pretend for a second that the problems with the VA are only five or six years old.
Ask any veteran who has tried to navigate the VA labyrinth, veterans often receive shabby and disjointed treatment and it has been that way for many years.
And before members of Congress mount their high horses, we hasten to point out that many of the issues with the VA can be laid directly at the feet of the ridiculously low budgetary allocations for the agency and even many misguided attempts to cut benefits to veterans and their families.
This despite the entirely predictable dramatic increase in need for service as the nation prosecuted not one but two long-term major wars.
Yes, the VA was swamped with claims because of those wars, but only in Washington could that have come as a surprise.
From where we sit, at least three things need to happen. First, the investigations must be thorough and brutally honest, no matter where they lead. Second, the president and Congress must fashion a bipartisan budget agreement to properly fund veterans’ earned benefits. Finally, any new secretary must be committed to implementing major operational changes at the VA and he or she must be qualified enough as a manager to make sure those changes are actually happening. The men and women who have served out country deserve nothing less.
~ Contra Costa Times