SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

May 26, 2014

Column: Our veterans deserve an advocate

In his last months as president, Harry Truman sat in his Oval Office and contemplated the fate that would befall Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the World War II hero who would be his successor.

“He’ll sit right here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike — it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.”

Unfortunately, that sums up Gen. Eric Shinseki’s frustrating experience since becoming secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki, a much-decorated, twice-wounded officer in the Vietnam War, entered office determined to give orders that would finally fix the VA’s documented history of forcing veterans to fight new battles at home just to get treatment and benefits they’d earned fighting our wars.

So, Shinseki ordered VA hospitals to limit patient wait times to 14 days — and, whistleblowers claim, some VA hospital officials responded with a bureaucratic equivalent of a one-fingered salute. VA sources and memos say some officials used double-listing schemes to cover up lengthy treatment delays at VA hospitals; and 40 military veterans reportedly died awaiting treatment at the Phoenix VA facility.

Wednesday, President Obama met with Shinseki and then said such cover-ups, if true, would be “dishonorable. ... I will not stand for it — not as commander in chief, but also not as an American.”

But Truman’s prophecy of the frustrating fate that can befall generals in government can also befall a president who never served in the military until he commanded it. Obama, after all, was famously blindsided by officials whose lapses led to the collapse of his health-care reform website. Now comes this from the VA.

But what makes the latest VA debacle so frustrating — and infuriating — for all Americans is that neither Shinseki nor Obama should have been blindsided by the VA’s problems. After all, the full depth and fundamental nature of the VA’s problems had been well documented back when Obama was campaigning for president and promising VA reforms.

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