Congress, VSOs Welcome Shinseki
Retired Army General Eric K. Shinseki took the oath of office on January 21 as the Nation’s seventh Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He assumed VA leadership just one day after his confirmation by the Senate.
Congress, VSOs, and individual veterans gave Shinseki’s nomination overwhelming approval and support.
“General Shinseki is an honest, distinguished, and capable veteran who is well-equipped to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Chairman Akaka. “He has a daunting task ahead of him, and I look forward to working with him and the incoming President to help veterans receive the care and services they have earned through their service.”
Shinseki was introduced at his confirmation hearing on January 14 by two distinguished World War II veterans—Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) and former Senator Bob Dole. Both praised General Shinseki and urged his confirmation.
“General Shinseki will be a strong voice for vets in the new administration and an individual who truly knows what our commitment to deserving veterans should be,” said Dole.
“He has an outstanding, impeccable record of service and personal sacrifice for our country.”
Inouye echoed Dole’s comments, recalling Shinseki’s initial tour of duty in Vietnam during which he was seriously wounded and suffered permanent injury to a foot.
“While any other man would have justifiably resigned himself to civilian life and retired from the military, General Shinseki instead pleaded to remain on active duty despite the hardship and physical pain,” he said. “That is one measure of the man who stands before you today: an unflinching devotion to country and duty.”
A former Army Chief of Staff, Shinseki was born in 1942 on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1965 and immediately served two combat tours in Vietnam.
He also served with distinction in Europe, the Pacific, and stateside, eventually becoming the Army’s senior leader from June 1999 to June 2003. His military decorations include three Bronze stars and two Purple Hearts.
Key issues on Shinseki’s agenda include smooth activation of an enhanced GI Bill education benefit that eligible veterans can begin using next fall, streamlining the disability claims system, leveraging information technology to accelerate and modernize services, opening VA’s health care system to Priority 8 veterans, and facilitating access for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
“Throughout Secretary Shinseki’s long and distinguished career in the Army, he produced real results and proved that his character is of the highest caliber,” said Chairman Filner. “I am certain that he understands the hard work and dedication necessary to make VA stand for ‘Veterans Advocate’.”
Shinseki appeared before a joint session of the House and Senate VA Committees on February 4 to deliver testimony entitled “The State of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.” It was followed by a question-and-answer-session with Members of the Committees.
Emphasizing people, results, and planning, Shinseki expressed optimism that VA could be transformed fundamentally and comprehensively. He said this would occur through teamwork, the rewarding of initiative, innovation, a demand for the highest level of integrity, transparency, and performance.
“In the near-term, I am focusing my energy on the development of a credible and adequate 2010 budget request as a priority, but the long-term priority will always be to make the Department of Veterans Affairs a 21st Century organization, singularly focused on the Nation’s veterans as its clients,” he said.