When we take the measure of a man, we often ask ourselves: Do we trust him? Likewise, our faith in organizations and government is shaped by similar questions: Are their dealings open and honest? Do they keep their promises?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs appears to be flunking these tests.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki made an uncomfortable appearance in front of U.S. Senators on Thursday following damning investigations done by government inspectors and journalists. Those reports suggested numerous veterans are not receiving prompt medical care, dozens have died while awaiting care, and the VA has fudged its records to hide these problems.
Doubts about the VA’s probity are deep enough that the American Legion has joined a chorus calling for the Veterans Affairs secretary to resign.
Shinseki, a retired Army general, told last week’s hearing that he feels a commitment to military men and women and intends to work on their behalf as long as the president wants him in the job. Instead, Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health at the VA, resigned on Friday. It was a less-than-dramatic move, since Petzel was preparing to retire this year.
The Veterans Administration displays a mission statement on its website: To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”
In Wilkesboro, N.C., Irene Triplett receives a $73.13 check each month from the Veterans Administration, compensation for her father’s service in the very war of which Lincoln spoke. The late-life daughter of Pvt. Mose Triplett, 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry, is the last child of any Civil War veteran still on the VA rolls.
The monthly arrival of Ms. Triplett’s checks should symbolize the certain and enduring nature of promises our government makes to those who serve.
In fairness, Shinseki may be whole-heartedly committed to the well-being of vets. His sacrifice of Petzel demonstrates a modest realization that some atonement is needed. Additionally, an inspector general cautions that it’s wrong to assume patients who died while on a waiting list died because they were waiting.
But the fetor of malfeasance and the funk of incompetence are too strong to ignore.
Washington state’s Sen. Patty Murray admonished Shinseki: “We need more than good intentions. What we need from you now is decisive action to restore veterans’ confidence ….”
We agree action is needed, but not from Shinseki. Accountability rests upon a foundation of consequences, not a patchwork of second chances. President Obama should replace Shinseki now.