General Shineski is a hero.
He took a job nobody wanted where everyone would criticize, few people would help, and yet he and a group of incredibly hard working public servants have done nothing short of revolutionizing the VA. In his five years of continued service to our nation he:
- Moved the VA over from paper records keeping to an electronic database; something the VA prior to the General couldn't, or wouldn't do, despite seven years of conflict started in the administration immediately prior;
- Opened up the VA to Vietnam and Cold War era veterans and recognized the link between failing health from Vietnam Veterans and their exposure to Agent Orange; something past VA administrations refused to do;
- Oversaw the opening of Vet Centers nationwide that supported veterans outside of major metropolitan areas;
- Tackled issues like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury which are poorly understood with poorly funded research and something that the administration prior to Shinseki did not thing would be an issue and challenges which previous VA administrations largely ignored or denied;
- Encouraged veterans to come to the VA to get benefits and not stay out in the cold leading to increased waiting lines for certain, but at least he reached out
And, epitomizing the warrior ethos, he never bragged, he never said look at me. He knew there was more work to do, and each day he got to work. Unfortunately, the VA system, despite the General's good work is still massively underfunded in many places and has fallen victim, on the whole perhaps, to the same challenges the rest of America faces:
- An under funded social safety net;
- A belief that medication can solve every problem;
- A refusal to treat people holistically;
- A lack of incentivizing prevention or cure;
- A poor understanding of the brain and mental health challenges;
- An unwillingness to treat subsurface issues or existing mental or physical conditions in veterans prior to deployment
- A lack of understanding that war causes veterans, so if we want less veterans, we need less war
Add to this, the challenge no one wants to say, that there are some veterans who will try and game the system, who don't need the services of the VA, or who chronically fail to show up to appointments denying another veteran the right to an appointment.
Don't get me wrong, I've had my share of struggles with the VA. They diagnosed me with PTSD and then told me it wasn't connected to my time in the military. Granted, I graduated from Ole Miss and our football and baseball teams have me constantly agitated, but we did have the Manning years.
And who now, would want the job Shinseki just left? My brother (also a veteran) and I had this discussion earlier on Friday. We decided the only job worse in America than the Secretary of Veterans Affairs may be to be on the floor of a slaughterhouse...only maybe.
Why? Because as the Secretary of the VA, the same people who won't fund you, blame you. The same people who vote for America's men and women to go to war, won't accept that going to war is going to create an influx of veterans when they come home.
So yes, the VA is a struggling institution, but not because of Shineski's leadership, and not because 90 percent or more of the people who work at the VA are evil and hate veterans. Instead, they're deeply compassionate, largely underpaid, hard working, innovative community members who think daily how to do more with less.
So if you're throwing stones are you willing to build back up the VA, or will you just keep throwing stones?
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