The VA’s Generational Problem

Juliette Kayyem | The Boston Globe | May 27, 2013

This week, we honor those who have died in America’s wars. And those who survive. Veterans and active-duty officers own the moment, as they should. Pausing twice a year — Memorial and Veterans Day — to honor those who carry the burden for the rest of us seems so little to ask.

Nonetheless, support for veterans has taken a decidedly political turn lately as calls mount for the secretary of veterans affairs, Eric Shinseki, to resign. The issue is the “backlog,” a single word used to explain the nearly 600,000 disability compensation claims that have been pending for over 125 days. But Shinseki’s problem isn’t that he is a bad manager; he has actually done more to focus a long-neglected, $140 billion bureaucratic behemoth than any predecessor. Shinseki’s problem is generational.

Shinseki is a Vietnam veteran, a combat-wounded warrior, and a man who famously questioned former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s optimistic promises about the pending war in Iraq. Recruited by President Obama to overhaul the VA, Shinseki is caught overseeing a long-term modernization program in a short-term media cycle.