Eric Shinseki is Reportedly Obama's Pick for Veterans Affairs

So sayeth the Associated Press:

Democratic officials say President-elect Barack Obama has selected retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to be the next Veterans Affairs secretary.

The officials said Obama will announce his selection Sunday. They spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the official announcement.

Shinseki is the former Army chief of staff who upset his civilian bosses in 2003 when he testified to Congress that it might take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to control Iraq after the U.S. invasion. He was forced out of his job within months for being "wildly off the mark." But his words proved prophetic after President George W. Bush in early 2007 announced a "surge" of additional troops to Iraq after miscalculating.

I'm not sure that I would use the same formulation as the AP -- that it took until George W. Bush announced his surge for Eric Shinseki's words to prove prophetic, because it was clear far earlier than 2007 (as early as the summer of 2003, in fact) that Shinseki was correct in his estimation of the type of force necessary for success in Iraq -- but leaving that quibbling aside, this is a fine pick. In fact, I've been watching for some time to see if Shinseki might enter politics in one manner or another. A little over three years ago there was speculation, which in the end didn't pan out, that Shinseki might run for Hawaii Governor. And back in December 2004, I asked Shinseki directly if he might one day run for public office.

Jonathan Singer: In recent years, we have seen Generals Al Haig and Wes Clark run for their party's nominations with varying levels of success, and in 1996 there were rumors that General Colin Powell would run for President. Do you see politics in your future? And in general, what are your feelings on military men running for elective office?

General Eric Shinseki: I don't see politics in my future, so let's put that aside.

I'm not sure that we necessarily have the skills to be good politicians. It's a different world. Al Haig, Wes Clark, and Colin Powell all ran for their own personal reasons with varying degrees of success. John Glenn was more successful, Glenn coming from the Marine Corps. [transcript from notes rather than from recording]

If Shinseki brings the type of focus and willingness to speak truth to power to the Veterans Affairs that he did to the military, he is going to make a real positive difference in the lives of those who greatly deserve better treatment from our government and be a very solid addition to Barack Obama's cabinet

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Can you hear them? They are US.

(A SERIOUS WARNING: This is a very disturbing diary. If this doesn't upset you, then you are probably from another planet. If genuinely upsetting news is not your cup of tea, I sincerely urge you to stop reading this and go elsewhere.)

As our society rapidly unravels in front of us, up to 100 million Americans are now having great difficulty just making it through the day.

They are silently screaming for our help.

These human beings cannot wait until a new president takes office.

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Alaska National Guard: Better Understanding Their Sacrifice

National Guard units struggle nationwide, but the post-deployment challenges facing the Alaska National Guard are more daunting and widespread than any other I've seen as a Director of Veterans for America's National Guard Program.

As we have done in more than 12 other states, members of Veterans for America's National Guard Program recently completed an assessment of the needs of the Alaska National Guard, culminating with a week-long trip to Alaska, visiting a cross-section of the state to assess the needs of the Alaska National Guard.  Despite the dedicated and relentless work many in Alaska, VFA's findings indicate that the post-deployment needs of Alaska National Guard members and their families remain largely unmet.

The greatest challenge facing Alaska National Guard members is access to care. Guard members living in urban centers like Anchorage and Juneau have limited access to Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare and Tricare (i.e., Department of Defense-sponsored military health care). When Guard members are deployed, their families are forced to switch to a very limited Tricare network, and often lose their health care.

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Hidden Casualties of War

Last week, I shared a tragic story of a veteran who committed suicide less than three hours after being assessed as a "low risk" patient, and was released from VA care. The carelessness of his assessment was largely due to a standardized questionnaire that was used to identify high risk patients. This is a serious oversight, especially when you consider the statistic that by the end of the day, 18 veterans will have taken their own lives.

Since these troops make it home from Iraq, Afghanistan or other battlefields alive, they are not counted as casualties of war. In 2007, 6,256 veterans committed suicide. That's about two thousand more than the number of troops who died in Iraq since the beginning of the war. And yet, these deaths are not counted among the war casualties.

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Suicidal vet was "begging for help, and they kicked him to the curb"

A few months ago, when I interviewed Josh, an Iraq War veteran, about his struggles with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD that he was affected with in Iraq, and which followed him home to Wisconsin, he told me that it had taken him 2 years to receive treatment for his conditions. His girlfriend told me that she was grateful that Josh was not one of the approximate 1,000 veterans who attempt suicide a month.

"Hundreds of thousands of soldiers who need it aren't even getting taken care of by the VA, and thousands more are attempting to commit suicide under their care. Not only that, but when I went there as 'a danger to myself and other people,' they said it was in the past and that it didn't mean that I was still. They didn't want me to be there and they didn't know what to do with me. It's no wonder they wanted to 'Shhh...' the numbers of veterans attempting to commit suicide under their care."

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