Regrettably, Security of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has resigned in response to the Phoenix VA healthcare system scandal, which involved the intentional falsification of documents to meet wait-time goals of no longer than fourteen days. Instead of improving wait-times, it appears financial incentives for reducing wait-times actually pushed doctors and officials to hide their failures. That said, the departure of Shinseki is a political response. While Shinseki was not directly involved in this scandal, our politicians decided it would be about him. Absent from the calls for Shinseki to resign is a simple question: who is the better man for the job.
Not only was Shinseki facing an exponential increase in wounded veterans thanks to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, i.e. we needed more resources in the VA, he was also trying to modernize the system in order to address the longstanding issue of lengthy wait-times. With the Shinseki leaving, we lose his experience and inside knowledge, which we need for immediate, effective reforms. Once we found ourselves beyond Shinseki’s capacity to change the VA culture, the system and veterans would have been better served had we found an outsider from a successfully civilian healthcare system with the ability to reform the culture before Shinseki was pressured to move on.
Finally, it is important to recognize this latest government scandal is part of a broader issue our Country has where we simply react to controversy. When our political instinct is to demand the resignation of the most senior official after a group of individuals within an agency do something wrong, instead of focusing on ways to understand and fix the problem, our Country has a culturally problem. It has become a common practice in the military for the top brass to resign when they feel they cannot complete a mission. Just as America needed General Shinseki’s criticism and honest recognition of issues with the Iraq war, we need the same in the VA now, so our veterans can finally be served in a timely manner.
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