We owe a debt to our Iraq and Afghanistan war vets. Why is Washington so slow to take responsibility?
By Joe Klein, Time Magazine (visit Joe’s blog posts HERE)
This is a month for painful anniversaries. It is 10 years since the start of the benighted war in Iraq. It is also one year since March 11, 2012, the day Staff Sergeant Robert Bales allegedly massacred 16 civilians in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan. But I’m more concerned about a silent anniversary: the next day, March 12, 2012. It was an absolutely terrible day for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, especially those looking for jobs. It was a day–yet another day–when the headlines were about a trooper gone berserk. This is true far too often: veterans involved in gun violence, suicide or domestic abuse, homeless veterans, addicted veterans. The woes are endless. The problems are real. But the vast majority of veterans don’t suffer from them. And there were no high-profile public figures to stand up and speak for the majority in the days after the Bales massacre, especially for the thousands who were thanked for their service–and then quietly turned down for work because employers, well, they didn’t want to take any chances.
Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans Affairs, should be the leading advocate for these troops. He should have been everywhere in the days after the massacre, promoting those veterans–and they exist all over in this country–who are fabulous employees, fabulous first responders, brilliant entrepreneurs in both the public and private sectors. But here’s a question: When was the last time you saw Shinseki say or do anything in public? He is universally regarded as an exemplary man. But even his supporters say he’s old-school military, stoic, wary of the press. And his detractors, who are legion among the generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, say he lacks the creativity and leadership skills to deal with Veterans Affairs’ mind-boggling problems, like the 900,000 unprocessed disability cases. In any event, he has been in office for four years, and the problems our veterans face are worse than ever–and about to get still worse as the military demobilizes tens of thousands of additional troops in the next few years. It is time for him to step down.
Originally published March 25, 2013.