Editorial Column: New Day at the VA

Las Vegas Sun

January 22, 2009 – Two years ago then-President George W. Bush ordered the surge, an emergency buildup of troops in Iraq. Conservative analysts were quick to hail the order as a bold and brilliant move. John McCain, in his presidential campaign against Barack Obama, even used the surge, which he had vociferously supported, in contending that he would be a superior commander in chief.

A more accurate way of interpreting the surge, however, was as a vindication of Gen. Eric Shinseki, who warned Congress in 2003 — before the Iraq war started — that the Bush administration was not sending nearly enough troops.

Shinseki’s reward for offering sincere and, as it turned out, accurate advice was to be ridiculed and then shunned by the Bush administration. He quickly went from being Army chief of staff to being retired.

Last month Shinseki’s military career was rightfully revived by then-President-elect Barack Obama, who nominated Shinseki for a place in his Cabinet as Veterans Affairs secretary.

On Tuesday the Senate quickly confirmed Shinseki’s nomination, and in so doing set a new course for the VA, which the Bush administration never prepared for the increased workload that two wars would bring.

A combat veteran of Vietnam and commander of NATO forces in Bosnia from 1997 to 1998, Shinseki has vowed to transform Veterans Affairs into a proactive, “21st century organization,” according to reporting by The Washington Post. One of his top aims will be to reform how claims are handled.

During Shinseki’s Jan. 14 confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said, “We are somewhere back in the 19th century” in terms of the VA claims system, the Post reported.

Shinseki could have finessed the way he addressed this stinging criticism. Instead, he agreed, adding, “Asking veterans to take a number and wait, or put up with records that are lost or take six months to adjudicate, is not part of the culture I expect.”

Our view is that Obama could not have chosen a more qualified person to head the VA.

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