The resignation of Eric Shinseki strikes me as inevitable, politically necessary and largely irrelevant if not counterproductive. Once the troubles in the Department of Veterans Affairs blew up into a major scandal, the administration's critics, Democrats as well as Republicans, made him the target of denunciations. Getting rid of him allows the president to buy some time by giving the impression he's done something decisive to help veterans. But it's not likely to do much good.
Why not? Because the problems are bigger than the secretary. The department and its medical facilities face twin pressures from the aging of the Vietnam generation and the huge number of people returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with physical and emotional injuries, many of them severe. A general scarcity of primary care physicians makes it especially hard to cope.
The crunch has been apparent for a long time: In 2004, NBC News reported, "There are more than 300,000 VA claims still waiting to be processed. Some VA patients wait up to a year to see specialists."
On top of that, a new secretary has a learning curve. Shinseki knew the department and was more likely to be able to figure out how to address its problems than his replacement will be anytime soon. Problems at the VA go back years, if not decades, and fixing them will take time and resources. Putting someone new in charge is not going to speed up the process.
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