I’ve blogged frequently about how traumatic brain injury is the signature injury of the Iraq war. The reaction by the Administration to this tragedy can be summarized as too little too late. Not too long ago, the Veterans Affairs Department was taking a hostile approach to wounded veterans making claims of brain damage or PTSD. That may be about to change. President-elect Obama’s choice to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, General Eric K. Shinsheki, strikes me as someone who would never allow politics to influence policy toward brain damaged veterans.
You may recall that General Shinsheki was the person who spoke truth to the myth being propagated by Don Rumsfeld in the run up to the Iraq war. Rumsfeld and his fellow neo-cons argued in early 2003 that we could invade, defeat, and stabilize Iraq with relatively few troops in part because Iraqis would welcome Americans as liberators. Vice President Cheney suggested we’d be greeted with roses and parades. Testifying before Congress in February 2003, a month before we invaded Iraq, General Shinsheki anticipated post-invasion enthnic tensions and other problems, and said it would take a ground force of several hundred thousand soldiers to maintain a safe and secure environment in Iraq. The Bush administration vilified Shinsheki for these comments, and he eventually retired from the Army. Of course, his predictions were spot on and were effectively vindicated by the 2007 surge.
The controversy made the General very popular with the soldiers in Iraq and the veterans of the war who resented our lack of adequate troop strength. General Shinsheki inherits an agency with increasing numbers of veterans with brain damage and mental wounds, injuries the VA has been ill-equipped to address. Turning this mess around will require someone with the honesty and integrity of General Shinsheki. Kudos to our new president for this outstanding choice.