General Shinseki, 66, who commanded the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia, has a solid reputation as someone committed to his troops. He is a combat veteran of Vietnam with two Purple Hearts and seems free of the pomposity and hunger for attention that so many military officers carry with them into retirement.
Running Veterans Affairs, the second-largest federal bureaucracy after the Pentagon, is daunting. Not only is the number of wounded veterans growing, but the type of suffering they endure — post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, the two signature afflictions of Iraq and Afghanistan — is often difficult to diagnose and treat. Shifting soldiers from active duty to the V.A. system is supposed to be rapid and seamless, but it has been marred by incompetence, inattention, inadequate funding and bureaucratic sloth. Far too many returning soldiers have gotten lost, with tragic results.
“You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader,” General Shinseki said at the time of his retirement in 2003. “You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it.” Those words were a rebuke to the Bush administration. It is heartening to know that the man who spoke them has been chosen to lead the agency charged with caring for America’s veterans, who deserve far better treatment than the country has given them.
Can the New York Times please comment on the treatment of veterans under Secretary Shinseki?