Freaky Friday: Veterans Affairs Chief Touts Successes, Promises Reforms, and Promptly Resigns

The tune on Shinseki’s career went from cavalry charge to taps within a matter of hours.

Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki addresses the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans on May 30 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

May 30, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is TakePart's News Editor.

The crowd applauded and whistled on Friday morning when keynote speaker Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki entered to address the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ 2014 conference. They warmly welcomed a leader who was introduced as “a true friend of homeless veterans” but has come under fire for the devastating failure of the VA’s hospitals and medical facilities to meet the needs of those who have served.

His speech was peppered with outbursts of applause as he detailed problems the vulnerable community of soldiers face and spoke empathetically about the importance of collecting data about 750,000 at-risk or homeless veterans to get them the help they need.

“With that kind of information, you can do something about it,” he said.

Oxycontin prescriptions were down at some facilities, he added.

Total VA medical costs are down 32 percent, he said, without eliciting a peep from a crowd that surely knew veterans have been underserved, too, making that not the most awesome achievement to tout.

Home evictions are down through interventions from the VA, he said.

He also addressed the “elephant in the room,” saying he was “too trusting of some” officials who falsely reported rosy numbers for wait times.

“I can’t explain the lack of integrity.... This is something I rarely encountered in 30 years in uniform,” he said.

He closed by pledging broad reforms, capping a speech composed of a long list of his administration’s wins with a long list of promises for what he planned to do to reform the VA.

But just hours after the speech full of promises and apologies was over, the four-star general’s military career was over too, with President Barack Obama announcing that he had accepted Shinseki’s resignation. Some argued it was the wrong move from the administration, but Obama said Shinseki didn’t “want to be a distraction” from the important work at hand.

A distraction from Democrats’ aims for midterms, as Republicans seized upon the VA scandal and took to the airwaves to call for Shinseki to step down? A distraction from getting veterans better treatment in the quickest way possible, signaling that Shinseki’s missteps were preventable and unforgivable?

That remained unclear Friday.