The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Hypocrisy of Time's Joe Klein

"Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a Soldier, or not having been at sea."    Samuel Johnson
Most men, anyway.  But not Joe Klein, a journalist, kind of, who clearly thinks very, very highly of himself.  In his most recent self-promoting crusade, Klein calls for the resignation of the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki. 
Why?  According to Klein, Shinseki should “take the fall” for the VA claims backlog, he’s “old-school military” (whatever that means), “stoic,” and “wary of the press” (wonder why); he doesn’t have the “creativity and leadership skills” to deal with VA challenges, and because unnamed detractors are “legion among ... Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.”
A few days after his call for Shinseki’s resignation, after several of the most prominent Veterans Service Organizations with millions of members lambasted Klein and supported Shinseki, Klein wrote “Eric Shinseki is a fine man, and a courageous one. He spoke truth to power at the beginning of the Iraq war.” But, he still needs to go.
Really Joe? And who are you to question the secretary’s leadership, judgment, advocacy for veterans, and knowledge of veterans’ issues?

Klein has made a career of writing and saying idiotic things and then backtracking. His outrageous statements have earned the wrath of Catholics, Jews, and even the physically handicapped. He wrote a book, anonymously, lied about being the author, and publicly staked his credibility as a journalist that he didn’t write it, only to turn around months later and admit that, in fact, he had. Exaggerations?  Read it online:
Klein has denied being a supporter of going to war in Iraq prior to the invasion—revisionist history garbage, and a huge flip-flop.  He was a supporter:  Klein said on Meet the Press in 2002: "War may well be the right decision at this point. In fact, I think it--it's--it-it probably is."
Hey Joe, the Iraq war was a primary contributor to many veterans’ issues; you might be surprised to know this, but wars produce wounds, casualties, PTSD and more veterans claims for benefits for VA.  You’d know that if you’d ever served.
At about the same time Joe was concluding that the war was the right decision, Shinseki was testifying before Congress on the war. When asked how many troops were needed, he responded, “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers, are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems.”   New York Times, January 12, 2007 “New Strategy Vindicates Ex-Army Chief”
With the benefit of hindsight, Joe, and on the 10th anniversary of the beginning of that conflict, who had it right back in 2002?  Where might we be if we had listened to Shinseki and disregarded media cheerleaders like you?  Is it possible there would be fewer veterans wounded and fewer VA claims?
These two men—Shinseki and Klein—are generational peers; Shinseki was born in 1942 and Klein in 1946.  Comparing how they have spent their lives might help the American people better judge who to trust on veterans’ issues, and who is the better advocate for veterans:
Shinseki is a 1965 graduate of West Point, Klein of U. Penn, 1968. 
While Klein was enjoying draft deferments, working hard toward his Arts and Crafts degree, Shinseki graduated, attended the Army’s Ranger Course, deployed to Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division, led Soldiers in combat, earned his first Purple Heart (shell fragments, chest and shoulder), and was grievously injured in a helicopter crash, breaking his arm, jaw, several bones in his face, and suffering a severe concussion—what we now know as a traumatic brain injury (TBI), one of the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
By 1969, when Klein graduated and started his first real job, reporting for The Peabody Times in Massachusetts, Shinseki had undergone months of hospitalization and recovery, and then voluntarily returned to Vietnam as a captain.
And in 1970, while Joe was still scribbling at the Peabody, Shinseki was leading over 120 men in the 5th Cavalry Regiment in combat, stepping on a landmine that removed most of his right foot and resulted in myriad other injuries, receiving his second Purple Heart, and was well into a tough year of rehabilitation—learning how to walk again.
For the next 33 years, Joe wrote some books and served as a reporter at many different media outlets, including Rolling Stone.  
During those same years, Shinseki served around the world, commanding every echelon of Army unit up to and including the vaunted 1st Cavalry Division (with about 18,000 Soldiers). Later, he was the planning officer for the entire United States Army.  In 1997, he assumed duties commanding United States Army Europe, Allied Land Forces Central Europe, and the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Then served as Vice Chief and Chief of Staff of the Army during terribly difficult years as we entered wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And since 2009, Secretary Shinseki, 70, has been working tirelessly to improve VA and best serve his fellow veterans—arguably the most difficult job in Washington after more than a decade of war.
And improvements have come.  His decisions on presumptions of service related conditions for Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome, and PTSD, among other improvements, have led to increases of over a million veterans to VA’s rolls for care and benefits.  Since the day of his arrival, he has insisted that VA’s 325,000 employees be advocates for the veterans they serve: “VA must and will change its approach to dealing with veterans.  We can and will become advocates for the men and women who have protected our country and defended our way of life.”
Shinseki has the leadership skills and moral courage to increase access for more veterans—knowing the backlog would rise, willing to take heat for that, even from non-player, bench-sitting, armchair quarterbacks like Klein. And he had the creativity and vision, early in his tenure, to demand that benefits processes be automated in massive changes to the way VA has previously done business.  Those changes are coming on line now, and they will bring the backlog down.  Not fast enough for veterans, not fast enough for Shinseki—but it will happen because of changes he has demanded.
 VA is far from perfect; Shinseki has said so on numerous occasions. But he has a plan to fix issues that go back decades, and he will be successful—if people disregard the idiocy of the Joe Kleins of the world, whose self-serving opinions swing with the blowing wind, who crave publicity and fame rather than volunteering for the hard, thankless work of solving complex problems and serving others. 
 So, you tell me—who has more credibility—Shinseki or Klein?  Who has served their country with more distinction? Who better understands veterans, their injuries and issues?  Who has a better track record of integrity and getting things right? Who has led huge organizations with difficult missions to success? Who better understands how those organizations operate and how to motivate people?  Who has leadership skills, experience, creativity, and the drive to insist on change? Who should we believe?
My vote goes to Shinseki. 

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