Everyone who knows anything about The United States Department of Veterans Affairs gets it when you talk about the old VA compared to the new VA. The Old VA is a still-dying bureaucracy rife with political hacks, third-rate cronies, pals of politicians, and some very frustrated healthcare providers. Contracts went to the most politically-connected suppliers, and those charged with issuing contracts usually were able to live beyond their Veterans Affairs salaries. It didn't matter which party controlled the White House because there were plenty of jobs, money, and off-the-record benefits to go around.
From the time Secretary General Shinseki was nominated, he has had a target on his back. Shinseki earned that target this way:
Shinseki remained on as army chief of staff during the administration of Pres. George W. Bush, but his tenure was marked by increasing tension with civilian leaders in the Pentagon. Shinseki subscribed to Secretary of State Colin Powell’s doctrine that military force, if used, should be overwhelming in size, speed, and power. This conflicted with the “small footprint” strategy espoused by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his assistant, Paul Wolfowitz, who believed that advanced battlefield technology and precision weapons made large bodies of traditional infantry obsolete. In the days leading up to the Iraq War, this doctrinal clash became public, when Shinseki testified before Congress in 2003 that an invasion of Iraq would require “several hundred thousand soldiers” and that a post-war occupation could awaken “ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems.” These statements were immediately refuted by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, and Shinseki retired a few months later. In 2008 Obama nominated Shinseki to serve as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the second largest agency in the federal government. He was approved by the Senate in January 2009.
In my opinion there are two reasons why Shinseki has been stymied in implementing the changes needed at VA.
Robert A. Petzel, M.D., was appointed Under Secretary for Health in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Feb. 18, 2010. For the last 40 years Petzel was a part of the VA management system. He announced his forthcoming retirement in September. He left last week. His departure should just be the 1st of many among senior management. Not all of these people are bad, but they know only how to do things "The VA Way".
Long, long ago a Patient's Advocate at Lakeside VA in Chicago proved to me that it was virtually impossible for the VA to comply with existing laws. To comply with one law, the VA had to violate another. Congress has passed laws every year in an attempt to tame the VA beast. Then VA lawyers try to write rules interpreting the new laws and viola! One conflict or another is discovered. Even when VA management wants to correct some obvious wrong, it can't.
So, now what? You will be hard pressed to find anyone knowledgeable about today's VA who thinks replacing General Shinseki is a good idea. However, pundits ranging from Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart [along with Stephen Colbert these 3 are the best friends of veterans on TV] the American Legion to are all reaching that conclusion. They are wrong.
Shinseki has been the best Secretary of Veterans Affairs since General Omar Bradley in 1945. Period. Full stop. The VA is the largest hospital system in the United States. It has taken him 6 years to uncover a raft of scandals, mismanagement, hidden turf, and political plots. He has established the standards of care required for the VA to meet it's mission.
He will not be able to complete the overhaul needed in the next 2 years, but he will be able to lay the groundwork and chart a course to complete the task. I hope the next President - whoever that may be - will keep him in place.
12:55 PM PT: It's a mark of progress that people actually care about how well veterans are treated. I appreciate that. It's a huge improvement over the way people treated veterans only a decade ago.
Take a bow, Kossacks. Many of us made that happen.
8:02 PM PT: Sorry, folks. I got sidetracked when my dogs Otis and Andy suddenly when nuts. Their arch enemy had entered their property (I only live here), and found himself cornered by them. "It" is a squirrel who jumped to a branch which broke. One thing led to another.