Swapping Shinseki for his deputy won’t get to the root of the agency’s problems
President Barack Obama lanced the infected boil that has become the Department of Veterans Affairs Friday by accepting the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki. While that action removes the public face of the expanding scandal, it triggers a series of new complications that means the VA’s woes are far from over.
True, Shinseki’s resignation excises the political problems associated with him sticking around. But it does nothing to ameliorate the deep and persistent rot inside the scheduling schemes that led to lengthy waiting lists that may have contributed to ailing veterans’ deaths. “Ultimately, a change in leadership does not address the root of the VA health care system’s problems of access and appropriate funding levels,” said Joseph Johnston, the national commander of Disabled American Veterans, on behalf of his group’s 1.2 million members.
But Obama made clear—five times as he announced Shinseki’s departure—that Shinseki had become a “distraction” that needed to be jettisoned. This focus on “distraction” puts style over substance, and the President said as much. “The distractions that Ric refers to in part are political,” he conceded. Ending such distractions are important in an election year where members of Obama’s own party were growing insistent that it was time for Shinseki to leave. “We’ve also got to deal with Congress and you guys,” Obama told reporters. “Ric’s judgment that he could not carry out the next stages of reform without being a distraction himself. And so, you know, my assessment was, unfortunately, that he was right.