In the Arena

Latest Column: The VA Mess

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Eric Shinseki is a fine man, and a courageous one. He spoke truth to power at the beginning of the Iraq war. But he has not been an effective Sercretary of Veterans Affairs and it is time for him to go.

I’m sorry I didn’t post this column several days ago, when it first went online. It has caused a fair amount of controversy in the veterans’ community. There are many other details I could have added. For example, Bob Kerrey told me that when he moved from New York to Nebraska to run for the U.S. Senate, he had to  actually go to the local VA hospital several times over the course of several weeks to get his disability records transferred (he was able to get his bank accounts transferred, electronically, overnight). The hassles aren’t limited to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans; they are multifarious.

There has been some discussion, too, about whether the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should be a public advocate for the returning veterans–or just concentrate on untangling the bureaucratic mess. Ideally, I’d love to see both…and if the VA Secretary isn’t out there reminding people that the vast majority of returning veterans are not nutjobs, that they are potential leaders who will make excellent employees, some high profile figure–the President, the Vice President, George W. Bush (who sent them to war), someone–should be leading the charge.

Finally, Mike Erwin the terrific leader of Team Red, White and Blue, took me to task for conflating the VA issue with the communities of courage and excellence that groups like Team RWB, Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues and many others are developing. It’s a fair point. This generation of veterans will create their own legacy–and I’m confident it will be a great one. The VA’s job is to provide support where it can in a caring, efficient way.

Mike also pointed out the his group and the others are mostly about building flourishing communities through an alliance between veterans and engaged civilians. This is an absolutely crucial point. You can run with Team Red, White and Blue. You can do disaster relief with Team Rubicon–as 10,000 civilians did after hurricane Sandy. Here’s how you can get in touch: