Gen. Shinseki’s leadership at the VA is not inspiring trust among the ranks

By Saba Long

We make assumptions every day. At work, in relationships, in government.

A U.S. Senator from Chicago assumed his message of hope and change would resonate with millions of Americans. It did; not with everyone, but enough to secure becoming president of the United States.

In his inaugural speech, President Thomas Jefferson wisely warned the American people, “I have learnt to expect that it will rarely fall to the lot of imperfect man to retire from this station with the reputation and the favor which bring him into it…I shall often go wrong through defect of judgement.”

In selecting political appointees, those in elected office often reward the steadfast and the competent. But not always the change agent.

President Barack Obama has endured enough management embarrassments that would make any CEO cringe. We can tick them off without much thought – former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius led an abysmal rollout of the website, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton allegedly mismanaged a deadly situation in Benghazi.

Currently, the sirens in General Eric Shinseki’s Veterans Affairs department are now nationally audible.

U.S. Congressman David Scott (D-Ga.) passionately called for Shinseki’s resignation, noting the General has yet to visit a V.A. hospital in DeKalb County fraught with administrative errors ultimately leading to the death of American soldiers, including suicides due to mental instability.

As Republicans and Democrats alike pile on the mismanagement rhetoric, let’s not forget the egregious failures of the Veterans Affairs to provide quality, consistent healthcare for our military didn’t just happen under Obama’s watch. Rather, it has come to a crescendo during his administration. Nearly 14 years of war and life-threatening combat involving thousands of soldiers has taken its toll on the department. So has Washington, D.C.’s partisan dissension.

The same Congressman and Senators who voted for the war later voted against expanding appropriations for the V.A., dismissing the logic of more soldiers in harm’s way would equate to more soldiers needing medical treatment.

To be sure, in-hospital reform needs to take place at a faster pace, but it must also be coupled with robust public policy measures that tackle the glaring issues of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and the lack of mental health support for our veterans.

General Shinseki is no stranger to the needs of our women and men in the U.S. Armed Forces. In his retirement speech as U.S. Army Chief of Staff, he remarked, “Our mentors understood that mistrust and arrogance are antithetical to inspired and inspiring leadership – breeding discontent, fostering malcontents, and confusing intent within the force.”

Perhaps he ought to blow the dust off that speech and give it to the staff at the V.A.

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Giant government organizations are almost impossible to run effectively.  Regulations are added piecemeal over time and ultimately conflict which damage management systems and make it very hard to make needed changes, managers' hands are tied due to personnel regulations - very hard, if not impossible to hold people accountable. The VA is a mess, so those of you who want a single payer health care system should look long and hard at the VA.