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U.S. President Barack Obama (R) talks to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki as he welcomes the Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride to the White House in Washington  April 17, 2013, in celebration of the seventh annual Ride. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY SPORT CYCLING) - RTXYPRT
President Obama is scheduled to meet with embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki Friday morning, for what the president described as "a serious conversation with him about whether he thinks he’s prepared and has the capacity to take on the job of fixing it." With many congressional Democrats joining Republicans in calling for Shinseki to step down after an inspector general's interim report finding a Phoenix VA medical center hiding significant wait times for veterans' medical care, you might expect the meeting to be the end for him. However, speaking to homeless veterans earlier Friday morning, Shinseki sounded focused on fixing problems, not leaving.

Shinseki reportedly concluded that speech by announcing that he is removing senior officials in charge of the troubled Phoenix VA, that senior Veterans Health Administration officials would not be receiving performance bonuses this year, and that wait times for patients to receive care would no longer be part of performance reviews, removing an incentive for VA employees to cover up long waits. Further, Shinseki endorsed legislation allowing him to more easily fire VA workers.

With an apologetic Shinseki saying "this situation can be fixed" and moving to do so, his answer to Obama's questions about his preparedness to take on the task seems clear.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'm delighted Shineski has (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Medde, rabel

    a comfy life and everything, but there are way too many American combat veterans on the street, wracked in pain.

    Until proven otherwise, this man is a useless bureaucrat, a highly paid one.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Fri May 30, 2014 at 06:39:38 AM PDT

    •  You don't know shit about Shineski (19+ / 0-)

      and his comfy life.  This man was a wounded soldier himself and paid for his service to his country with the loss of a limb.  Comfy indeed, when you get your ass shot, you realize right fucking quick like that comfy is not a word you can ever live with.  He needs to continue to make the VA a better place just like he has been doing since the Bush administration fucked it up in the first place.  The VA has taken care of me since I was 19 years old and have only gotten better with me as I have aged thanks in part to this general and what he has done since his start.  Keep him.

    •  So I guess your criticism is "All-Purpose"... (9+ / 0-)

      ...since ANY leader of any government agency will likely not be forced to live under a bridge, and, by the very nature of the administration of groups of people engaged in an enterprise, be a "bureaucrat"...

      Wouldn't matter WHO had the job.

      I think that the Secretary should be given the opportunity to rectify these issues, any new leader is going to spend weeks settling in and conducting THEIR OWN information-gathering effort before anything concrete happens.

      The Secretary has fired specific administrators and made specific policy changes, and I expect he'll do more, and have a list of his remedies to bring to the meeting with the president.

      "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

      by leftykook on Fri May 30, 2014 at 06:58:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You don't know what you are talking about (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BlueDragonNH, KayCeSF, sillymortal

      which is why's Jon Stolz, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Affairs, even polled members of the American Legion (whose heads joined Republicans in calling for him to resign, 64% of them) joined the majority (60%) of veterans who said Shinseki should NOT resign.

      Why?  Because he has been the most effective advocate for wounded veterans, homeless veterans, the powerless and disenfranchised veterans the VA has had.  Under Shinseki's watch veterans of Vietnam who suffer from war-related PTSD and Agent Orange injuries are FINALLY getting care.  It's part of why the numbers of patients the VA serves went up by over a million new eligible - to finally provide the care that has been denied these veterans by the the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush administrations.  

      Under Obamacare, one million veterans have also chosen the VA as their medical care insurer, adding to the stress on the system.

      The system is overloaded, in part because of decades of denial and neglect by previous Presidential administrations and Congress, and in part because of a progressive agenda I support of expanding health care for all, and honoring our national duty to those vets injured by PTSD or Agent Orange by providing them proper health coverage through the VA, the funding has not been increased by Congress commensurate with the new directives.  In fact, they refused to do so, by refusing to allow a vote on Bernie Sanders bill to create more medical care facilities to help address the increased need.

      Congress has a duty to authorize appropriate funds to pay for the incredibly expanding responsibilities of the VA, and because the VA health care is not legally an "entitlement" for service, it is not automatically renewed and increased (like Medicare for seniors) and has to be re-authorized each year in whatever amount Congress decides.  

      You might know some of this if you really understood veterans health care issues and cared, rather than simply parrot a Republican talking point that is aimed at attacking Obama and destroying what they consider the Socialist Veterans Medical Care system by privatizing it.

      Veterans who use the VA medical system know the difference between a good general committed to his troops and those sideline critics who snipe and carp but disappear when the real battle for their lives is engaged.

      "Out of Many, One Nation." This is the great promise of these United States of America -9.75 -6.87

      by Uncle Moji on Fri May 30, 2014 at 08:16:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Its a walk to the gallows for Shinseki (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    karmsy, localokie
    •  Gop wins this round. All blame will be pinned o... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      aaraujo, eztempo

      Gop wins this round. All blame will be pinned on him and the president. This will be used to stop any progress towards single payer as well as attack the aca and any other government involvement in health care

  •  I think the President is right to respond to this (19+ / 0-)

    in his own time. The media is attempting to dictate to the President to act the way it wants him to act by claiming Democrats will be hurt in the midterms. And some Democrats have taken that message to heart, calling that the President should fire Shinseki....

    Yeah Democrats, as if calling for Shinseki to go will improve your chances during the midterms, as far as the media is concerned.

    Some of these same people were calling for Katherine Sebelius to go over the healthcare early rollout too. I'm glad the President didn't allow the Republicans and media to bully his actions there as well; he stood his ground and the healthcare rollout turned into a success....

    Make your own decisions, Mr. President....

    •  With a lotta input from the VSO's..screw congress. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
    •  Yes. And... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      askew, NedSparks, KayCeSF

      Media use of the term "embattled Shinseki"
      (including the orange place, apparently) seems more a figment of media's wishful thinking than anything factual.

      "Why don't you and him fight? I'll hold your coat."

      "Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don't be attached to the results." -- Angeles Arrien

      by Sybil Liberty on Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:20:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  John Barrow (D) called for resignation (0+ / 0-)

      I predicted it before it happened, sadly. John Barrow and Scott became the first Democrats to call for Shinseki's resignation. I really don't know when he voted with his party. How does this help the party?

      One hopes the President learned from his first administration that listening to the opponents does not make them quiet. It makes them louder. They've decided that they're going to say "He's weak" no matter what now.

      "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

      by The Geogre on Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:39:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Our response is pathetic... (8+ / 0-)

    Maybe instead of playing to the GOP tune, our spineless congress critters can introduce a bill tripling the VA budget? We can spend the entire time hammering the GOP for cutting the VA budget.

    Instead we get this crap. SHinseki will lose his job for no fault of his own.


    •  Pro-activity should beat blame game at this point. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bear83, Pale Jenova, edsbrooklyn

      The VA is a very complicated set of management challenges. And each passing day, its workload gets heavier, its personnel and budget more stressed.

      I'm not pleading for cutting slack, here, just sensible management action on a high priority basis.

      2014 is HERE. Build up the Senate. Win back the House : 17 seats. Plus!

      by TRPChicago on Fri May 30, 2014 at 06:59:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Government Effeciency (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pale Jenova

    1. Dissolve the VA
    2. Apply the VA's budget to Medicare (< 5% overhead)
    3. Assign all vets to Medicare
    4. NEVER permit Medicare to go underfunded.

    "The skeleton in the closet is coming home to roost!" Tom Stoppard

    by Apotropoxy on Fri May 30, 2014 at 06:52:07 AM PDT

  •  I really hope he can weather this. (10+ / 0-)

    He's the first VA Sec in a long time who vets like and appreciate.  VA staff like him too.  Full disclosure: my husband is a VA doc here in New York.

    There's a feeding frenzy. Eric Shinseki is not the problem. Remember the two wars started in the early 2000s? More new vets? More seriously injured vets? Aging vets? More services required? Never enough funding? No new facilities to care for all the new patients?

    There are real problems at the VA; they also do remarkably good work.

    Please read and share this important article.  Yeah, I know it's in Forbes, but Krumholz was a VA guy who knows what's what.

    Remember. Bring them home. ● And he reminds me that we are playing a long game here … and that change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once -- Michelle Obama.

    by edsbrooklyn on Fri May 30, 2014 at 06:52:23 AM PDT

  •  If this report is all he proposes, it's not enough (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Sec. Shinseki must do what a successor must do - take the internal reports to date and immediately implement the necessary changes of personnel and reallocation of resources, with priority attention to the most under-served areas, and present a progress report to the President and Congress within, say, 60 days.

    During this, prioritize the key longer range cures - budget, medical and administrative personnel training and support, information systems review, etc. - and charter a wholesale review of the VA from a management perspective.

    2014 is HERE. Build up the Senate. Win back the House : 17 seats. Plus!

    by TRPChicago on Fri May 30, 2014 at 06:53:19 AM PDT

    •  Terrific ideas, and some are possible immediately. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rat racer, TRPChicago

      But they still need a lot more funding to accomplish many of these.

      Congress?  Hellooooo?  Anyone there?

      Remember. Bring them home. ● And he reminds me that we are playing a long game here … and that change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once -- Michelle Obama.

      by edsbrooklyn on Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:10:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As Usual in Washington, someone must get (5+ / 0-)

    Fired to make the idiot politicians look good. The problems with the VA goes back years, in both Republican and Democratic administrations. No one cared about these Soldiers, for a long time no one did. But it's election year, so the frauds in Washington act like they care.

    •  This is just another war cost the Bush Admin (8+ / 0-)

      put on the national credit card to be dealt with later. The millions of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan earned the proper level of care from the VA - a level that would require billions of dollars in additional funding.

      Unfortunately, the same politicians pushing for Shinseki's ouster have been completely derelict in their duty to fund the VA properly.

      Election Day is Nov 4th, 2014 It's time for the Undo button on the 2010 Election.

      by bear83 on Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:05:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I guess that answers the question: (0+ / 0-)

    What does it take NOT to receive performance bonuses at one of these agencies?

    And God said, "Let there be light"; and with a Big Bang, there was light. And God said "Ow! Ow My eyes!" and in a flash God separated light from darkness. "Whew! Now that's better. Now where was I. Oh yea . . ."

    by Pale Jenova on Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:01:06 AM PDT

    •  I'm not in favor of the bonuses (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pale Jenova

      But remember that most of the employees have been under a wage freeze for the past few years. Some of them were furloughed. Prices went up, but their pay didn't.

      Right now, the VA has close to 3,000 job vacancies posted on USAJobs -- doctors, nurses, med techs -- who wants to work for a place where you can't get a raise?

      Most Federal bonuses require that the employee receives an "exceeds expectations" on all the requirements in their yearly performance review. It's possible that gaming the waiting list was encouraged by management.

  •  Congressional finger-pointing-chest-thumping (7+ / 0-)

    bodice-ripping is purely deflection from their own abdication of duties.

    Jon Soltz: "Hypocrits!"

    Firing Shinseki now,  would result in vets and their very real issues being lost in the course of the requisite Senate confirmation hearings/freak show.

    Don't do it, Mr. President!

    "Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don't be attached to the results." -- Angeles Arrien

    by Sybil Liberty on Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:01:34 AM PDT

  •  Wait Time Reviews (0+ / 0-)

    Say what? "wait times for patients to receive care would no longer be part of performance reviews"

    No, wait times should absolutely be a part of performance reviews.

    Falsifying wait times should be a dismissal offense. Wait times should be independently audited, not just self-reported by the various hospitals.

    We also apparently need an overhaul of the systems in place that schedule appointments.

    [Terrorists] are a dime a dozen, they are all over the world and for every one we lock up there will be three to take his place. --Digby

    by rabel on Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:16:24 AM PDT

    •  Look at the VA Inspector General reports (0+ / 0-)

      The wait times were audited, and have been cited as a problem back as far as 2005 -- during the Bush Administration.

      The Republicans only pay attention to these when they can beat up a Democratic Administration.

  •  It's just not Phoenix. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rat racer, dagnome

    Phoenix, I think, is just the tip of an iceberg of incompetence, corruption and in some cases disdain for veterans that has been festering for decades. Let's examine the "big picture" to use an old cliche.

    Reagan threw many veterans out of the VA medical system by closing eligibility categories. The Bush administration refused to recognize several diseases and health conditions scientists and doctors linked to Agent Orange exposure, denying care and benefits to over 500, 000 Vietnam vets. Under the Obama administration and Secretary Shinseki, these eligibility categories were reopened and expanded and additional "presumptive" Agent Orange maladies were at last recognized. Congress has increased the VA budget (I think) by 50%, however, the VA has more than doubled it's veteran workload with new Vietnam vet claims and returning Iraq/Afghanistan vets.

    Just the demand for PTSD evaluations and treatment are, well, mind boggling. Bush and the GOP controlled House ignored these problems and Bush's VA Secretary to this day says he would roll back services to Vietnam era vets whose maladies he attributes to "ageing", not Agent Orange. Look for similar arguments about Iraq/Afghanistan veteran health problems in the future.

    A ticking time bomb for future VA secretaries will be the health problems created by exposure to depleted uranium ammunition and armor, not to mention the myriad of chemical agents our military men and women have been exposed to during these longest of wars. Some of the damage done will take years to show signs and symptoms not only among veterans, but their progeny. The big picture is, wars are very expensive, not just during the fighting, but for decades after the battles are over. Many politicians, especially Republicans, I think, prefer veterans to just die or be killed in action. They are less expensive and more easily exploitable for political purposes.

    I am a Vietnam vet permanently and totally disabled by exposure to Agent Orange. I fought the VA for over 6 years before being declared disabled. Over three times longer than my SS claim required.

    My conditions were crystal clear, fully documented by Social Security, VA and civilian physicians and really not subject to doubt like many claim PTSD claims are. My health conditions were all physical and easily verified by lab tests, xrays, physical exams and yet the VA dragged my claim out for 6 years. Lost paperwork and files, inability to obtain medical record from the VA itself, re-submission of forms numerous times; the delays seemed intentional in some cases. Some VA employees even insinuated on blogs that vets were intentionally "gaming the system" to take advantage of the taxpayer. A view shared by Bash's VA Secretary and former Senator Alan Simpson. During that time I paid copays to the VA for my medical treatment, spent months trying to get appointments and requested numerous times to see a cardiologist, a request that was finally granted after over 2 years of delays. I will mention that the cardiologist was incompetent, which is widely known among fellow veterans in the system, yet he continues on the VA payroll.

    I learned the VA is a government department that is literally "to big to fail" and too entrenched with political cronies and untouchable career civil servants to properly manage. Like many career civil servants, these folks know how to weather the storm, since many of the politicians will be gone long before the career civil servant. Also, the concept of paying career civil servants cash "bonuses" for doing their jobs is, to me, just outrageous and an invitation to fudge facts, figures and outright lie.

    As a past and current victim of the VA (I still have long waits to see a doctor, and lately very few doctors stay very long at my local clinic before quitting in disgust) I don't think firing Shinseki is the answer. Put him on a short leash, but give him the tools to run that mammoth department. We need a wildcat to go through the VA, I think Shinseki needs to be that wildcat, I think he has the personal capacity for the job. What he needs are the tools, the ability to fire and discipline "career" civil servants. With politics the way they are today, I doubt the GOP will ever allow Obama to appoint a more effective secretary since it wouldn't be in their political interest now.

    Just some thoughts from someone with firsthand experience dealing with the VA in Ohio, not Phoenix.

  •  Shinseki has improved the VA (5+ / 0-)

    I've always had trouble understanding the 'somebody needs to fall on their sword' mentality. If General Shinseki knew about the duplicity and did nothing to stop it, he should be fired. If he was indifferent and failed to provide adequate supervision, he should be fired. If he didn't set the proper tone and failed to lead the VA system, he should be fired. But, from everything I've read, none of that is true. He knows now, he is outraged, and he has a plan to address the problem. He should be given a chance to implement his ideas, and then we can decide if he should be allowed to continue.

    We get so caught up in our thirst for blood that we just don't think about whether it actually accomplishes anything. I know that sometimes things occur that are so heinous that a large public sacrifice is the only thing that will help people move forward, or that a leadership change needs to happen to restore morale, but we use this tool far too often. Why stop at Shinseki, then? Should Obama resign? He hired the man. Should Congress resign? They confirmed his appointment. No. The idea that General Shinseki is personally responsible for criminal malfeasance in Phoenix is as ridiculous as the idea that President Obama is. Fire the Phoenix managers, prosecute people who profited by lying about wait times, and give upper management the grace to do what you hired them to do: improve the system.

    The VA system is in a better place than it was before General Shinseki took over. It still has a long way to go.

  •  Give Shinseki 90 days (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    askew, Tuscarora

    If Obama believes that Shinseki has a way to turn it around then the president should give Shinseki 90 days to present a turn-around plan and make take some positive steps towards improving the situation.  Included in Shinseki's plan could be proposals for legislative assistance including additional funding.  

    My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.—Carl Schurz
    "Shared sacrifice!" said the spider to the fly.—Me

    by KingBolete on Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:30:56 AM PDT

  •  Reduce waits. No funding. Go! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sweatyb, Uncle Moji

    This crisis highlights the political and civil service cultures at war.

    I'm sure that no one who mandated the reduced wait times intended Congress to strangle the funding and suddenly clutch its pearls about "deficits." I'm sure that they intended the wait lists to be a "metric" and "accountability." However, they were political system folks. After putting in the "metric" or "accountability," they were gone.

    The people at VA thus had a mandate, but they hadn't gotten any capacity to meet it. As civil service, they knew how to placate and dodge the winds of political appointees and irrational "regulations." Besides which, Congress didn't believe in the regulations. FoxNews said that everything the political regime did was stupid and bad (and if you were in Phoenix, there's some chance you leaned that way).

    So. . . "Here's how you get around that."

    Is the answer to make the top civil service more subject to political appointees? I'm not sure.

    "man, proud man,/ Drest in a little brief authority,. . . Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven/ As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,/ Would all themselves laugh mortal." -- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure II ii, 117-23

    by The Geogre on Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:34:24 AM PDT

  •  If Shinseki must go (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Uncle Moji, KayCeSF

    Then so must every person in Congress that ever sat on a veterans or military affairs committee.

  •  I am appalled at the Congressionals (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sybil Liberty

    who have fallen in line with this farce.  Unfortunately, my own good Senator Tom Udall has signed on as well, and I have written him a letter telling him why I believe Secretary Shinseki should be honored, rather than asked to resign.  

    I'm damn angry this morning.  Anyone who has lived long enough to know how Congress has for decades failed our veterans, anyone who knows General Shinseki's biography, would understand that Secretary Shinseki is NOT the problem.  The problem lies with Congress.

    This is a shameful moment for Congress.

    What a farce!  And the media is driving the bus while Congressionals toss General Shinseki under it.  This is simply political posturing by Representatives who have no shame.

    Thank you Bernie Sanders for standing up for 4-Star General Shinseki!

    Please stand with General Shinseki, Mr. President.

    I would rather spend my life searching for truth than live a single day within the comfort of a lie. ~ John Victor Ramses

    by KayCeSF on Fri May 30, 2014 at 08:18:10 AM PDT

    •  Well, too damn sad. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sybil Liberty

      He has offered his resignation, Mr. President has accepted.

      Damn sad.

      I would rather spend my life searching for truth than live a single day within the comfort of a lie. ~ John Victor Ramses

      by KayCeSF on Fri May 30, 2014 at 08:20:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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