As a retired U.S. Air Force physician, I have uneasy feelings about the forced resignation of Eric Shinseki as Veterans Affairs secretary (“Shinseki sacrificed himself — now Congress needs to fix the V.A.,” op-ed column, June 3). It was clearly a political necessity that removed a distraction to progress toward correcting serious problems.
I hope that his resignation sent the message down the line that the government is serious about cleaning house. This is surely a useful exclamation point to President Obama’s claim of being “mad as hell” about problems in the V.A. But General Shinseki’s gracious falling on his sword notwithstanding, he may be a blameless sacrifice to necessity.
The ingenuity of bureaucrats in protecting their self-interest and concealing faults from superiors is boundless. It doesn’t take an organization as big as the V.A. to be so complex that even the most talented, committed, proactive leader can be prevented from seeing problems in the field that those responsible for them are doing their best to disguise. Anyone who doubts this is simply unaware of the nature of people and organizations.
An investigation may show that General Shinseki was a hands-off manager, willfully unaware of the magnitude of the V.A.’s problems, who deserved to be cashiered. But given that he had a four-decade career that took him from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to the pinnacle of Army command, this seems unlikely.
It’s plausible that, as he stated, he was lied to about entrenched problems and that there was no deficiency of commitment and involvement on his part. Perhaps an investigation will exonerate him, though this would clearly not be in the interest of vocal lawmakers who took an opportunity to play the outrage card for all the votes it’s worth.
I doubt that we’ll ever know with confidence. I’m sorry to see such short shrift given to a distinguished officer and leader.
DR. HOWARD RITTER, JR.
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