December 7th, 2008


Obama picks a real maverick to head the VA.

In the days before the invasion of Iraq, when General Eric Shinseki was asked at a Senate Armed Services Committee about  how many troops would be needed to stabilize the country after the invasion, he responded that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would be needed for the job.

Unfortunately, that figure didn't fit the requirements of the Bush administration, who was trying to sell a war at the time. Almost immediately, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said that the General's estimation was "wildly off the mark", and that only about 100,000 troops would be needed, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that "The idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces I think is far off the mark."

Soon afterward, Gen. Shinseki went into retirement. And in the years to come, as over 4,000 US troops died in Iraq and tens of thousands more were wounded, Gen. Shinseki remained remarkably classy and professional, declining to make public comments on the Iraq war, Rumsfeld, or troop levels since his retirement. But at his retirement, Shinseki said of the administration's policy on troop strength, "Beware the 12-division strategy for a 10-division Army. Our soldiers and families bear the risk and the hardship of carrying a mission load that exceeds what force capabilities we can sustain..."

Well, as of today, he's the appointee to be the next head of the VA... himself a dual purple heart winner who lost a part of his right foot in Vietnam. The first Asian-American to hold this position, and only the third to hold a cabinet-level position in the government.

Thankfully, he's saying all the right things to start off with...

"Veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular are confronting serious, severe wounds — some seen, some unseen — making it difficult for them to get on with their lives in this struggling economy. They deserve a smooth, error-free, no-fail, benefits-assured transition into our ranks as veterans."

Speaking to veterans, Shinseki added, "I will work each and every day to ensure we are serving you as well as you served us."

... presumably even when doing so requires the open acceptance of hard truths.  For this reason alone, Gen. Shinseki's background is ideal for the job at hand.

Let's face the truth. It would be less of a burden on the taxpayer to let today's veterans go unhelped, and to let them go the way of so many Vietnam veterans... into the streets of America, ignored and untreated.  Americans can tolerate and turn a blind eye to this kind of injustice, because they've done it before... and really, it's quite late in the game to talk about "helping" soldiers who have suffered traumatic injuries three, four, five years ago now, when the truth is that they really could've benefited more with rapid intervention years ago.

There are tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of damaged and broken veterans out there. And we cannot necessarily mend their bodies, their minds, or their lives, especially this late in the game.

But even in the midst of the worst economy in decades, we have a moral obligation to try.