Eric Shinseki resigned today as Veterans Affairs secretary and President Obama accepted the resignation with “regret.” Was there really any other alternative?
Was there value in jumping out early in the bipartisan group calling for the resignation? Was the temperate course to hold fire until the matter worked to its logical conclusion, as Sen. Mark Pryor did? Or was it politically damaging? Does everything have to be viewed through a political prism?
Shinseki’s departure lances a political boil. But it doesn’t fix the waiting list at VA hospitals, with an increasing caseload from years of war making and a budget chronically underfunded by a Congress that talks a good game on veterans but has failed repeatedly to deliver.
Shinseki apologized for VA problems before his meeting with Obama. The buck stops with him in the department, make no mistake. But can we also reflect for a tiny moment that Shinseki is believable when he expresses remorse? He lost part of a foot in combat in Vietnam. He went on to be a four-star general. Conservatives have long despised him for his truth-telling about insufficient troop commitments by George Bush in Iraq. The chicken hawks who are now waving his head around on a pole for political points aren’t fit to carry his briefcase.
Here’s the local angle yet to be explored. We have a huge VA system in Arkansas. We know Phoenix was a disaster. What will reviews show about service to veterans here. If I was an Arkansan in Congress, I’d be well on my way to having answers to those questions now.
UPDATE: Sen. Mark Pryor weighs in with a measured statement:
Secretary Shinseki is a decorated war hero, and there’s no question he cares deeply about our veterans after 40 years wearing our nation’s uniform. I respect his service to our country, and I respect his decision today to step down as VA Secretary in light of the disturbing treatment of veterans at facilities in Arizona and elsewhere. It’s clear there’s a lack of integrity within the VA system and we need to fix it immediately. We have a long road ahead, but I will deliver on my promise to get to the bottom of this for Arkansas veterans.