By Jay Kirell
In a news conference at the White House today, President Obama announced the firing of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shineski.
“He’s a good person,” Obama said.
It didn’t matter.
What does matter is what this firing means for veterans?
Ultimately it means one of the most qualified, dedicated and accomplished men in government – a man who, if he weren’t the current secretary, would probably be the guy everyone else would be screaming to take over – has just gotten shoved out the door.
For the crime of being VA Secretary following two wars and two million returning veterans filling up VA treatment centers that weren’t equipped to handle the influx.
For the crime of not being a psychic and predicting that various VA clinics would go rogue and keep separate sets of books in order to meet patient care guidelines and receive bonuses.
But ultimately for the crime of being a mild-mannered and measured administrator at a time when a convergence of angry veterans, VSO’s and the media demanded someone who screams and shouts and conveys a sense of outrage – regardless of whether it would actually improve anything at the VA.
So a pound of flesh was required to appease those in the D.C. media, politicians and partisan veterans organizations who called for a response.
Because just like in pro sports, if a team has a losing year – it’s easier to fire a single coach than get rid of dozens of players.
Will Shinseki’s firing immediately improve care and treatment at the VA?
I don’t believe anyone thinks it will.
Will Shinseki’s firing prevent further wait time scandals from occurring in the future?
I haven’t heard anyone make that case.
Will Shinseki’s firing wash away decades of insular rot that has enveloped the entire secretive culture of the VA?
Not at all.
But hey, at least he won’t be a “distraction.” Whatever that means.
So what does his firing accomplish?
1. It gives certain politicians running in the 2014 midterms an opportunity to claim a “victory” for calling for his resignation and an easy chance to knock any opponents who didn’t call for his dismissal.
2. It sets up a certain political circus over the confirmation of the next VA Secretary, with potential presidential candidates and senators up for re-election lining up get their 15 minutes of fame by grilling whatever poor sap is unfortunate enough get tabbed for the job.
3. It makes whoever replaces Shinseki less likely to be able to deal with the scandals. Whoever gets picked to be the new VA Secretary will be spending the first few months just getting used to the job, getting to know those who’ll be working under them and understanding how to navigate the vipers pit of bureaucracy that current VA has become. Then when the next secretary finally has all the information and experience they need to deal with the problems – well, a new VA Secretary will be taking over with the next president.
Because if you think the next VA secretary is going to come into the department blind and fix this mess in the next two years you have no concept of the complexity of the problem.
A problem that was bigger than Eric Shineski. A “good person” as the president said. Just with very bad timing.
Being VA Secretary in an election year.