VA leadership changes needed

On May 5 during Spring Meetings in Indianapolis, I did one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do as national commander – I called for the resignations of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Under Secretary of Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey. The American Legion hasn’t called for the resignation of a public official in 30 years.

The call for their resignation comes from poor oversight and failed leadership. The American Legion wants answers and solutions to the pattern of scandals that has infected the entire VA system.

CNN reported late April that the Phoenix VA Medical Center had been keeping a secret waiting list that included veterans waiting more than 200 days for an appointment, which may have resulted in the deaths of 40 veterans. If true, these accusations are despicable. No one who served this country with honor should be left to die in such a way.

Then The American Legion was informed that clerks at the VA clinic in Fort Collins, Colo., were instructed last year on how to falsify appointment records so it appeared the small staff of doctors was seeing patients within the agency’s goal of 14 days.

VA leadership has demonstrated its incompetence through preventable deaths of veterans, long wait times for medical care, a benefits claims backlog numbering in excess of 596,000, and the awarding of bonuses to senior executives who have overseen such operations. Those problems need addressed at the highest level – starting with new leadership. The American Legion does not see VA enacting the culture change that it so desperately needs with the current leadership in place. Senior VA leaders have isolated themselves from the media and, more importantly, from answering to their shareholders, America’s veterans.

The American Legion is hopeful that our annoucement for the resignation of Shinseki, Petzel and Hickey will be acted upon for the betterment of Americas veterans. However, if changes in VA leadership are not made, we will continue to make our voice heard. The American Legion is committed to ensuring that each and every VA-eligible veteran receives high-quality health care in a timely fashion. And preventable deaths at facilities entrusted to provide that care will not be tolerated.


  1. Commander--

    Thank you for your concern about the treatment of our fellow veterans by VA medical facilities. However, I believe you are wrong in calling for General Shinseki's resignation. I believe that his insistence on top flight support of veterans' issues has caused centers with problem management to keep double books. Their actions were clearly wrong and the Center Directors and responsible center personnel should be terminated at the affected medical centers. Support General Shinseki in his continuing efforts to provide the best possible support for us veterans. I find it offensive that you don't have an email address on this website. Why not?

  2. Commander you don't speak for me and I hope not for the majority of Legion members. I find it hard to believe you actually claim to have management experience. If so you should recognize you are not qualified to carry the briefcase of Gen. Shinseki. He was lied to by subordinates 2 or 3 levels below him and at locations hundreds of miles from his office. He should be allowed the pleasure of determining who the liars are and then firing them, take back any falsified bonuses, and prosecute them in a court of law. He should then ask the IRS to investigate the flagrant violation of all Legion Post that operate as an open to the public bar and grill which should result in the entire Legion organization to lose their tax exempt status under your ignorant leadership. By the way where were the drunken bums at the Legion lobbying office in Washington, D.C. when Walter Reed was falling apart. Probably at the Market Inn. Dennis Schehl, USAF 58-62. Post 223 MD

  3. I totally support out Brave National Legion Commander
    he has something none of you who want Obama and Shinski to continue. and that is balls

    The VA is out of control and has been for over 40 years ,
    The employees can't be fired because of their Unions Meanwhile our Vets lay and in angony as they are sick dying and their families are ignored

    Anyone that supports Shinski and any National supporters of his and Obama of Shinski and his National employees has got to be deaf and blind and never been to the VA,
    Quit drinking your cheap beer and take care of our Brothers and Sisters because all of you that support the VA are nothing but a rear end on a bar stool who have done little or nothing for Vets and their families

    Every VA needs to be torn to the ground and replaced with privatized with civilian Dr's and workers.
    They are undersupervised, over paid and can be the rudest hospital worker in America and get away with it as they force us to delay , delay and die

    How can any of you stand and watch the over 700,000 Vets wait for their claims to be received and worse yet how can you justify Vets having to watch for months and years to receive proper treatment.?

    It is obvious none of you have ever needed serious treatment at the Va like for cancers etc,
    It is a joke
    If you go to the VA for this treatment you will die before you receive consistant and proper treatments and be assured the VA will use the cheapest and most out dated equipment to treat you, I am a 4 times AO cancer survicor , none of the treatment was at the VA why?
    Well maybe because I didn't want to wait over 90 days to just see my first Dr.
    God Bless You Commander
    You are doing a great jog ignore these butt kissers of obama who are alllowing us to die and doing their best to prevent the truth from being told

  4. I am a 23 year combat of the US Army. I believe in taking care of our own. However I do not like our Commander going on the new s and calling for the jobs of these people without polling the members of even letting us know that you are about to use us a political pawn.

  5. Commander, I respectfully disagree with the American Legion’s position on requesting VA Secretary (GEN) Shinseki’s removal as a result of the disturbing news related to informal wait lists at isolated VA hospitals. I retired after 30 years in the Army and currently a VA client. General Shinseki is one of the top 3 most loyal to the Soldier, honest and compassionate officers I served with during my career. He is a multiple times, severely wounded Vietnam War veteran. He stood up for veterans, by establishing a goal to remove every homeless service members from the streets by 2015. He did this especially when neglecting them would have been more politically expedient. He is a true believer in taking the “harder right over the easier wrong”. The Nashville VA, which I use is more user friendly, professional and thorough than any civilian or military hospital I have used other than those in a combat theater.

    General Shinseki has always been a leader willing to stand on his beliefs. While Army Chief of Staff, General Shinseki and Army Secretary White showed courage, at the cost of their jobs from severe administrative pressure, to maintain their initial assessment of forces required to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although the current VA’s isolated issues are deplorable, in my opinion Secretary (GEN) Shinseki is the one leader able to correct this issue. The press, congress, administration, and military organizations such as the American Legion need to support General Shinseki to help him clean up this mess. I expect the American Legion, which I am a member, to embrace VA secretary (GEN) Shinseki and support him as he resolves this issue.

    Kent Crossley

  6. Welcome Home Kent;
    How much did you get paid to support Shinski?
    Have you every had to go to the VA Colonel or do you get the Special Hospital?
    we know you don't have to use the walk in VA like the rest of us,
    We are losing a 1,000 Vets from Nam or more a day and they can't get treatment,

    The VA needs to be torn down and privatized ]so we can get rid of thousands of VA employees who are impossible to fire because of their Union.
    Wake Up , I would call you Sir but when you turn your back on our Troops as you just did you are deserving of no more than Hey Buddy

  7. Commander,
    I respectfully disagree with your call for VA Secretary (GEN) Eric Shinseki’s resignation. Your letter offers no evidence of wrong doing or neglect on the part of Secretary Shinseki, and includes no explanation to show he is any less dedicated or capable now than he has ever been in fulfilling his responsibilities.

    Your letter fails to consider his 38 years of service in which he fought in combat and was wounded twice. Furthermore, it ignores a history of vision, effective leadership, and consistent sacrifice in caring for the health and well being of American service members. His understanding of what service members endure every day for our country, and his compassionate leadership style is exactly what qualified him for selection as VA Secretary. He is the kind of leader the VA needs.

    One need only look to the Iraq war to see the considerable risk GEN Shinseki took on behalf of all American service members when he called for a much bigger force to secure post-war Iraq. He disregarded himself and stood on his principles at the cost of his own career, only to be proven right later. It appears like somewhat of a double standard to call on Secretary Shinseki's resignation now when the Legion did not call for the resignation of political leaders when an inadequate number of soldiers were deployed and later found to be poorly equipped and at risk.

    I urge you to take a more constructive approach to this matter. Perhaps a more appropriate solution may be found in demanding he hold his senior staff accountable for their leadership failures while providing the American people with a plan and implementation timeline for resolving the issue. Further, while the Legion holds Secretary Shinseki accountable in this way, it should also call on Congress to provide him the resources needed to ensure Veterans always receive the quality of care they have earned and that the shameful quality of care received in Phoenix never happens again there or anywhere. Your letter suggests GEN Shinseki condones what has been uncovered, and I find that most distasteful of all.

    I am completely confident GEN Shinseki will win the day once again, and I am proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him.


    Jon-Paul deLange
    CW4 (RET), USA

  8. As an 18 year Army veteran I have never before been ashamed of the Legion. Sad to say that ended today when I read the disgraceful statement of the Commander calling for the resignation of General Shinseki a twice wounded combat veteran and former Army Chief of Staff. I can only conclude the Legion hierachy are political hacks.

  9. Despite it being easy to fault people down the line, the pervasiveness and severity of this mistreatment demands accountability at the top. Sorry general Shinseki but it is time to step aside and allow new leadership to address a problems that stains our Nation's commitment to Veterans.

  10. I call upon National Commander Dellinger to resign his post effective immediately, for a failure of leadership and gross lack of judgement.

  11. Commander,

    I think we voted you into office to make the hard decisions in an executive manner, like you have. I think alot of people are holding their feelings on their sleeves when it comes to Gen. Shenseki. For starters this is not war and he is no longer leading usinto battle. Those 4 stars are hanging in a shadow box some where and have been traded in for a suit and tie. He is no longer a Soldier he is a Statesman in charge of the second largest Department in our Nation that is in charge of caring for the Veterans who have served our nation. Veterans who trusted him to make a drastic change, and who died because he didnt. We have at least 40 confirmed dead Veterans, who probably served with these Vets who are telling you that you did the wrong thing. Would they be defending their beloved General if a unit of 40 or more Service Members died on the Battle Field because of lack of leadership or explanations as to why they are dead? This Administration has been broken since its inception and this is just another era of the VA killing Veterans. Its my opinion that the good General has had his chance in the last 5 years. I agree he has done alot of good things, but the fact of the matter is this: Veterans are dead because he was to silent and didn't get more involved until it was too late. His lack of ability to speak to the Media is ridiculous. When you hold the positions he has you need to be able to ease the minds of the Veterans who are still using the VA while these investigations are still on going. In closing Sir, I want to reiterate, I stand behind your decision because when Veterans died at the hand of another person because the Secretary didn't do his job, then I dont care what Rank or Award he might have been given (SS & MOH included) he needs to be released from duty and if enough people are dead, then its time to go to jail. Your call for Resignation has the entire Nation talking. Keep up the good work and keep us up to date.

    Very Respectfully,

    ABH2(AW/SW) M.J. Little
    Life Member
    John Stelle Post #106

  12. I, and most of the vets I know are greatly sickened by the Legion's disrespectful and dishonorable call for Shenseki's removal. You have set the worst possible example for anyone who has ever worn the uniform by not affording due process. No VA secretary has done more good in the VA system than Shenseki, period. I and many others will now find it difficult to support anything to do with the Legion unless Dillenger is immediately removed and an apology rendered. At best, Dillenger comes across as a Republican mouth piece, his views no longer support the majority of his constituents. Remove him at once so the Legion can recover and move on.

    Rick Burrows

  13. Comments by the American Legion Commander Dillenger are deplorable and the intent of such remarks examined. Dillenger sounds too political to be taken serious. Although, the situation at a few VA facilities cannot be tolerated. I believe General Shinseki is the right person to make those necessary changes.
    Secretary (General) Shinseki has taken a seriously dysfunctional Veteran's Administration to a very smooth operating system as it is now. Of course there are exceptions. Secretary (General) Shinseki has worked wonders at the VA, and for Dillenger to "throw him under the bus" is absolutely disrespectful, unnecessary, and counter-productive. If anybody should resign it should be Dillenger. Secretary Shinseki is the right person for the job. Let's support him while he fixes the problem areas. I'm afraid to think what sort of politically appointed person we would get. I recommend that American Legion Commander Dillenger give up his position with the American Legion. This is not a position for political posturing.

  14. Commander,

    I appreciate your concern and statement in regards to the treatment of our fellow veterans by VA medical community. However, I do believe retired General Shinseki's resignation should be considered and his Under Secretary of Veterans for Benefits resignation should also be reviewed. Too many veterans and their dependents are dying prior to receiving their entitled benefits as a result of the long waiting period to process claims and now we find dying due to the lack of timely medical care, yet managers/supervisors are receiving bonus. I was urged to write a book "The Disabled Veteran's Story" released last week in Amazon. which really speaks to the sacrifices of our veterans and their families, especially chapter sixteen-"The Mom's Struggles with a Traumatic Brain Injured Son; chapter one- "A Bataan Death March Survivor", Ringing a door bell to finally release a veteran's retro benefit and to be informed by the family the veteran had been waiting for over two years for their entitled benefits only to find out he/she had died days prior to my arrival is truly a travesty. This happens too often as a result of how long it takes to process a claim. I spoke with a 90-year-old WWII veteran last week who is still waiting on his rating decision for over two years, he claimed. His condition is worsening and his days are limited. So it is not only in the medical community veterans are dying. They are also dying prior to receiving their benefits as well.

  15. Well Commander, you got your wish. You must feel pretty satisfied with yourself having brought down an decorated/wounded combat veteran. This will accomplish nothing to improve the VA. You have excercised a gross lack of judgement. Do me a favor and resign from your post immediately.