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Editorial | Island Voices

The right person to lead Veterans Affairs is Eric Shinseki

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When I first came to Hawaii as a student more than half a century ago, I was struck by the pervasive vitality of two fundamental elements of life in our islands: the spirit of aloha and the code of honor associated with the concepts of giri, gaman and ganbaru.

Aloha is a living philosophy of the Native Hawaiian bringing heart and mind together in which the essence of all relationships is regard for each other as brothers and sisters in an extended family.

For those who came from Asia to our shores, the Japanese keys to life were anchored in a sense of duty (giri), endurance (gaman) and perseverance (ganbaru).

Eric Shinseki was immersed in these values from his birth. They are the foundation stones of his life and career.

The Eric Shinseki under attack in Washington, D.C., is unknown to me. From the fierce loyalty engendered by internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII to his wounding in Vietnam, to when I first met him in support of Gen. Wesley Clark in the Balkans to becoming Army chief of staff, his qualities of leadership and commitment to his troops have been the embodiment of the values with which he was raised.

That has translated into his accomplishments as secretary of Veterans Affairs, especially regarding provision of health care.

The VA accounts for more than 85 million appointments a year, over 235,000 a day at more than 1,700 sites — by far the largest integrated health care delivery system in the nation. Its more than 330,000 employees are expected to meet the core values of the VA mission — rendering the services veterans have earned and securing the benefits that accompa- ny them. If or when misconduct of any kind occurs; if standards are breached, such isolated failure should not be allowed to obscure the daily roll call of outstanding service to veterans that is the hallmark of Eric Shinseki’s tenure:

» The more than 2 million veterans enrolled with acknowledged quality healthcare as measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

» Reducing veterans’ homelessness by 24 percent from previous levels.

» Decreasing the disability claims backlog by nearly 50 percent.

All this takes place in a newly emerging context of care for veterans.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed, there was an assumption that the role of the U.S. military in world affairs would diminish. The Balkans, Iraq, 9/11 and Afghanistan have altered that view, with serious long-term consequences for the VA, both in terms of the kind of care and benefits required and the cost of seeing them accomplished. Shinseki foresaw this as chief of the Army and has acted on the resulting premises from the day he took office as secretary.

I suggest to my former colleagues in Congress that they examine their role in addressing these difficult challenges with an eye to supporting Shinseki as he devotes virtually every waking hour to the needs of our veterans. He does this from the deep conviction that his sense of duty demands. His loyalty to veterans and the United States honors the values that have marked his career.

If you could witness as I have this selfless son of Hawaii in the midst of homeless veterans now finding hope and purpose in the active programs he has championed; if you could have felt the electric sense of connection between him and fellow grievously wounded soldiers, all doubt as to his capabilities and commitment to them would melt away.

Let us not let the negative actions of the few block our vision of this dedicated servant of our nation and the good works he has done and will do in the weeks and months to come.

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