Legion defends VA chief against columnist

The leader of The American Legion has come out swinging in defense of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. Shinseki, a retired four-star Army general and decorated Vietnam War combat veteran, is the primary target of a scathing, yet-to-be-published TIME Magazine piece penned by prominent columnist Joe Klein. The article, titled “Ten Years After: a National Disgrace” lambastes Shinseki for maintaining a low public profile while veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer mass unemployment and stigma related to widespread and misleadingly alarming media reports of emotional distress among the young former servicemembers.

Klein also pins responsibility, at least in part, on Shinseki for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ large and continuing benefits claims backlog, and the failure of  VA and the Department of Defense to institute an integrated electronic medical records system. Of Shinseki, Klein says, “It is time for him to step down.”

“While we do not deny that problems and inefficiencies exist within VA and VA-related activities and programs, placing the blame on Secretary Shinseki  is wholly unwarranted and disingenuous," said American Legion National Commander James E, Koutz. "As anyone familiar with our organization knows, we of the Legion have never been shy about identifying deficiencies in VA’s operations, facilities and care, but we have found nothing lacking in Shinseki’s leadership.

“In truth, Gen. Shinseki has been one of the veterans’ community’s most effective and forceful advocates in recent years. He has spearheaded a bold and winning effort to combat homelessness among young veterans and fought alongside his colleagues in government to increase employment opportunities for former servicemembers and their families. He has struggled mightily to contain and quell the infamous benefits claims backlog crisis despite the burgeoning number of cases being filed by an ever increasing number of veterans entering the VA system and – ironically – exacerbated by his own successful efforts to add to the extensive list of service-connected diseases and conditions that qualify its sufferers for VA medical benefits. Secretary Shinseki has also inspired and shepherded the most generous veterans benefits budgets and advocacy programs in American history.

"Secretary Shinseki is a frequent and welcome guest speaker at Legion conventions and conferences. There is a reason we invite him to be among us so often. He has shown to be an unfailingly dedicated, sincere, heartfelt and generous friend to his fellow veterans. While The American Legion has always dealt in issues and not personalities, we will not stand by silently while an honest man, a decorated veteran, and a sincere advocate is unfairly maligned. In the opinion of this 2.4-million member organization, this is not a man who should step aside.”