The lever on a political trap door was yanked on Friday in Washington. And down went a man who was two-thousand miles away from the crime scene in Phoenix. President Obama preened as he pulled the lever to make a good man disappear and escape the blame that he himself had earned. Both parties in Congress applauded, since the deed masked their own failures in an election year. And media sensationalism provided another cheering section.
The only participant who emerged with dignity from it all was the victim, Veterans Affairs Secretary (until this morning) Eric Shinseki, a retired general and wounded vet himself.
The political mob won. Our country and our veterans lost again.
Democracy is always in danger of collapsing into mob rule, and we rarely have been so threatened. Democrats buy off their electoral mob with giveaways that destroy ambition, families and lives. Few Republicans stand up to their own better-dressed mobs.
This time, demagogues from both parties agreed: They had to sacrifice Shinseki as a scapegoat. Otherwise, angry citizens might discover the real culprits on Capitol Hill.
It was Congress that underfunded the VA for half a century. It’s Congress that protects dishonest civil servants and incompetent union members, even when our veterans are the victims. It’s Congress that makes it absurdly difficult to hire quality employees in a timely manner.
It’s Congress’s procurement rules that restrict competitiveness when agencies seek to improve information technology. Not least, it was Congress that dramatically increased the range of services the VA must provide and the range of patients it must treat—without commensurate increases in funding and staffing.
And it was Congress that looked away as Vietnam veterans aged and required more extensive care. It was Congress that ignored the fact that, thanks to incredible strides in military medicine, we were able to save the lives of wounded troops from our recent wars who would have died on or near the battlefield in past conflicts—but many of those wounded warriors require exceptional care.
Instead of providing oversight as they’re supposed to do, members of Congress skipped the hearings they ostentatiously scheduled on veterans’ affairs. In a particularly shameful episode, one ranking member who never served in uniform and was AWOL from his own hearings attacked the Veterans of Foreign Wars because the organization supported Shinseki (one thing you don’t hear in the media: most veterans believe they get very good care, once they get into the VA system).
Our representatives and senators make the Kardashians look like models of virtue and self-restraint.
Through all this, President Obama continued praising veterans as they died, betraying them on the battlefield and betraying them here at home. He spoke the words, but closed his heart.
And the one man who gave all he had to help our wounded warriors—a wounded warrior himself—became the fall guy.
General Shinseki, who lost half of a foot to a land mine in Vietnam, had his faults as VA secretary. They just weren’t the faults of which he stood accused.
General Shinseki served in the Army for nearly forty years. It spoiled him for Washington work. Army officers aren’t perfect, but when it comes to integrity their standards are far higher than those in the civilian world. Simply put, most officers tell the truth and can trust each other. In Washington, by contrast, the truth is whatever you can sell to the press and the public (witness Obama’s breathtaking claim this week that his leadership rescued Ukraine—even as the flow of blood intensified).
In the Army, an officer might try to put a good face on the facts—but he’ll deliver the facts. On the administrative side of the VA, people just lied. Shinseki made the mistake of trusting civilian careerists chasing bonuses the way he’d trusted subordinates in the Army.
Despite that, Shinseki made real progress during his tenure. The deadly backlog of claims was reduced significantly. Care expanded dramatically. Additional employees were recruited. Great strides were made in helping homeless veterans. But Shinseki could not fix a half-century’s damage in five years.
Now that seventy-one-year old retired general, a man who has dedicated his entire adult life to serving our country, leaves office under a cloud of hysteria whipped up by politicians, from President Obama (none of whose intimate cronies served in uniform), to worried Democrats running for Congress who’ve suddenly discovered disabled veterans, to equally cynical Republicans exploiting veterans for a campaign advantage.
Well, here’s the test for those who oiled the levers on that trap door. Will you resign if, a few years from now, the problems at the VA still aren’t fixed?
Fox News Strategic Analyst Ralph Peters is a retired U.S. Army officer and former enlisted man. He is the author of prize-winning fiction and non-fiction books on the Civil War and the military. His latest is "The Damned of Petersburg: A Novel" (Forge Books, June 28, 2016).