President Barack Obama today accepted the resignation of embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
It was an unfortunate end to a remarkable career of public service that lasted roughly half a century.
Shinseki’s departure comes amid widespread charges of corruption and ineptitude at VA hospitals across the country. And it leaves a glaring question — who is next to lead the VA?
There’s no doubt the VA needs help, so who could take the reigns from Shinseki and provide the organization with the leadership it needs to serve the nation’s veterans? We compiled a shortlist:
1. Jim Webb
The Marine and former Navy Cross recipient from the Vietnam War has been a prominent figure in veterans affairs for 40 years. He served as secretary of the navy under President Reagan and most recently as a U.S. senator from Virginia, where he was the architect of the G.I. Bill for post-9/11 veterans. His son is also a veteran of the war in Iraq. He’s been successful in basically everything he’s ever done, and all of that has been geared toward helping veterans. He’s just the kind of no-nonsense leader the VA needs, if he isn’t set on running for president…
2. Stan McChrystal
A retired Army four-star general who last commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan, McChrystal knows first hand the costs of the last 13 years of war. Though he fell out with the Obama administration after a scathing Rolling Stone article, he later partnered with the president to help run Joining Forces, the president’s initiative for military families. McChrystal has been a transformative leader and revolutionized the way Joint Special Operations Command worked with other government agencies. If he could do something similar at the VA, he could be the perfect man for the job.
3. Tammy Duckworth
A wounded veteran of the Iraq War who now represents Illinois’ 8th congressional district as a democrat, Duckworth represents the very veterans that need the VA the most. She also has direct experience working for the VA, both as the director for the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, and later in Washington as assistant secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.
4. Mike Mullen
Mullen last served as the president’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and in doing so, was the president’s chief uniformed military adviser. After retiring from 43 years in uniform, Mullen has turned his attention to the private sector, serving on the board of General Motors and other corporations. He has the name recognition and authority and experience to lead the VA.
5. Max Cleland
Cleland currently serves as secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, and in doing so, is a prominent public official in the veterans community. He is a former democratic senator from Georgia, the only democrat to ever serve a full term in the senate. A decorated Vietnam veteran, Cleland is also a wounded warrior, having lost both legs from a grenade blast in Vietnam.
6. James Mattis
No list of prominent veteran leaders is complete without retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, who last served as the head of U.S. Central Command. Since his retirement, he has been an outspoken proponent of veterans issues, including recently railing against the perception of veterans as victims. In addition to being a legendary leader, Mattis would be an absolute icon at the head of the VA.
7. Paul Rieckhoff
As the executive director and founder of Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America, Rieckhoff is a prominent voice in support of modern veterans. He’d be an intriguing figure to launch the VA from obscurity and give it a face for the 21st century.
8. Patrick Murphy
An Iraq War veteran and attorney, Murphy was the first veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan to serve in Congress, representing Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district from 2006 through 2011. President Obama appointed him to the U.S. military academy’s board of advisors in 2011. He currently hosts an occasional program on MSNBC called “Taking the Hill.” He’s a pioneer for modern veterans and has the legislative and leadership experience the VA needs.
9. Holly Petraeus
The wife to retired general and former CIA director David Petraeus, Holly Petraeus has been a part of the military community her entire life. Her father, Gen. William Knowlton, was the superintendent of West Point while David Petraeus was enrolled there. In 2011, she joined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to lead the Office of Servicemember Affairs.
10. Tommy Sowers
The former special forces soldier just left a leadership position at the VA where he served as assistant secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. He holds a doctorate in economics from the London School of Economics. He was the Democratic nominee for Congress in 2010 for Missouri’s 8th congressional district. He deployed twice to Iraq. A young, modern veteran, he also has the knowledge of VA infrastructure and the energy to transform the institution.
11. Bob Kerrey
Kerrey is a former Navy Seal, a Medal of Honor recipient, a longtime senator from the state of Nebraska, and most recently the president of the New School in New York City. He has the leadership, the experience, the resume, and the know how to lead the VA under the very difficult circumstances it currently faces.
12. Tulsi Gabbard
Gabbard, a Democrat representing Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district, is a rising star in the military community and the Democratic party. She is a member of the Hawaii National Guard and deployed twice to the Middle East, including a 12-month tour with a medical unit in Iraq, where she worked with many of the injuries the VA deals with on a daily basis.