Obama vows to improve treatment of vets
AFP - Monday, December 8
CHICAGO (AFP) - - US president-elect Barack Obama on Sunday vowed to improve the treatment of troops returning home from war as he nominated retired general Eric Shinseki to head the Department of Veteran Affairs.
If confirmed by Congress, Shinseki would be the first Asian-American to head the VA, which has been fiercely criticized in many quarters for failing to properly help Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
"For many of today's troops and their families, the war doesn't end when they come home," Obama said at a press conference in Chicago.
But "far too few" are receiving the treatment they need to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, he said.
Obama pledged to cut red tape, eliminate budget shortfalls and help ease the transition back to civilian life for troops returning to a troubled economy.
"No one will ever doubt that this former army chief of staff has the courage to stand up for our troops and our veterans," Obama said of Shinseki.
"He has always stood on principal because he has always stood with our troops, and he will bring that same sense of duty and commitment to insuring that we treat our veterans with the care and dignity that they deserve."
For his part, Shinseki promised to open new doors of opportunity for returning troops through the VA, which is the second largest US government agency after the department of defense.
"Even as we stand here today, there are veterans who have worried about keeping their health care or even their homes, paying their bills or finding a good job when they leave the service," Shinseki said.
"They deserve a smooth, error-free, no-fail benefits-assured transition into our ranks as veterans, and that is our responsibility. Not theirs."
Hawaii-born Shinseki, who is of Japanese descent, was the first Asian-American four-star general and the first to head one of the branches of the US military. He was appointed army chief of staff by president Bill Clinton in 1999.
He is also known for being a critic of former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's conduct of the war in Iraq. At a hearing in Congress in February 2003 senators asked Shinseki how many soldiers he believed would be needed to topple Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq.
"Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required," Shinseki said.
"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," he said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Rumsfeld's deputy Paul Wolfowitz famously dismissed the estimate as "wildly off the mark," while Rumsfeld himself reportedly belittled the estimate with expletives. Both believed a force of around 100,000 was enough to control Iraq.
Shinseki had no direct role in the war planning and took an early retirement in June 2003, soon after the fall of Baghdad.
Shinseki was decorated for his two combat tours in Vietnam, where he lost part of his foot. He also headed US Army forces in Europe and headed a NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
John Rowan, the National President of Vietnam Veterans of America, described the choice as "promising."
The group has "no doubt that General Shinseki has the integrity and personal fortitude to usher in the real changes needed" to help veterans and their families, Rowan said in a statement.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the nation's largest nonpartisan organization for veterans of the two wars, said Obama had demonstrated an understanding of the urgency of the issues facing those who fought for the country.
"General Shinseki is widely respected, honest and experienced," the group said. "He is a man that has always put patriotism ahead of politics, and is held in high regard by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan."
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President-elect Barack Obama (R) introduces retired Gen. Eric Shinseki as his choice for Secretary of Veterans Affairs during a press conference at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. Obama on Sunday vowed to improve the treatment of troops returning home from war as he nominated Shinseki to head the Department of Veteran Affairs.
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