Following weeks of controversy over his oversight of the Veterans Affairs Department, General Eric Shinseki stepped down today as head of the department.
The controversy began when documents were discovered revealing widespread misconduct at VA hospitals in Phoenix, Arizona, including the manipulation of waiting lists to reduce the appearance of wait times for hospital appointments. Since then, additional accusations have surfaced revealing what Shinseki admitted this morning was “a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity” within his department. He has already initiated termination procedures for the top-level managers of those Arizona hospitals.
However, Shinseki’s slow pace at confronting charges of departmental mismanagement appears to have cost him his job. Today, he met with President Obama, who hinted in an interview yesterday that he would be having an important meeting with the general; by the end of the meeting, President Obama had “with regret” accepted General Shinseki’s resignation.
As I wrote back in May of 2010 when I profiled him for this blog, Eric Shinseki is the first Asian American to receive the rank of four-star general, and the only Asian American to have served as Army Chief of Staff. Now retired, Shinseki served in the Army from 1965-2003, and served tours in Europe and in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He has received several honours over his career, including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest peace-time award.
General Shinseki has always been something of an icon to me, particularly for his strong stance against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he testified before the US Senate Armed Forces Committee. In this hearing, Shinseki he insisted that large troop deployments would be necessary rebuild Iraq. This was at a time when the Bush Administration was insistent –based on virtually no good data — that the war in Iraq would have a low human cost.
That being said, our veterans deserve better than the deplorable conditions in some of this nation’s veterans’ hospitals. The degree to which the department was able to skate under the radar while underserving our military veterans during Shinseki’s watch is inexcusable. I wish Shinseki wasn’t forced to resign today; but more importantly, I wish he had done something to help this nation’s veterans long before today.