Congress Is Playing Politics With This VA Scandal, And It’s Not Working

Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, speaks to two NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan advisors at Kabul Military Training Center Jan. 16, 2011. At the center which is the largest training base in Afghanistan, advisers help and advise ANA instructors who teach the bulk of the recruits training.
Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ernesto Hernandez Fonte

A week or so after last year’s federal government shutdown, I had the extreme displeasure of attending a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing where Secretary Eric Shinseki testified. I say extreme displeasure because what had occurred at the hearing was infantile, to say the least. I was invited to attend the hearing because I was on stand-by to provide a veteran’s perspective on the shutdown’s impact on veterans and their family members. I am thankful that I did not have to testify, because instead of a lesson in civics and the legislative process, I learned how grown men and women, supposed leaders of our great nation, purposely use every tool in their kit bag to push their own personal agendas.

I entered the hearing expecting to hear an intelligent dialogue between the congressmen and Shinseki. Instead, there was a lot of finger pointing and scapegoating. The most comedic (in the Greek sense) aspect of the hearing were the Republican congressmen grasping at straws in their wanting Shinseki to fix the problem(s) that they themselves had created by shutting down our federal government. In this case, Shinseki repeatedly informed the committee that the Department of Veterans Affairs had already implemented its “emergency” procedures and was using its emergency funds to ensure it remained operational and that all of its claimants continued to receive their payments (i.e., disability, Post-9/11 GI Bill, etc). I left the hearing before it had ended because I could not stand the committee’s overt politicizing of such a serious and important issue.

When I read Senator Richard Burr’s Memorial Day letter to veterans, I truly realized how much of a cynic I am. I must be getting old. As abysmal as Burr’s letter is, I was neither surprised nor disheartened by the words and the sentiment that he expressed, for at this stage of my professional life, I do not come to expect much from most of our elected leaders. Where were leaders like Senator Burr, who have served in Congress for decades, banging on the drums of service and duty to fix the VA during the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s? This is a rhetorical question because it is apparent that the majority of our elected officials use veterans and their family members as political pawns to prop themselves to look like patriots. For decades, elected officials like Senator Burr have voted against increased appropriations to the VA. They talk a good game, but if one were to look at their voting record, one would see that their rhetoric does not correlate with their votes and funding approvals.

As for the motivation behind Burr’s Memorial Day letter, he is perturbed because the Veterans of Foreign Wars did the right thing in not politicizing the dire issue that the VA is facing (and dealing with) in Arizona. Many of the national Veterans Service Organizations, including the American Legion, have called for Shinseki’s resignation over this issue and the department’s overall poor performance (according to them) since President Obama took office. Many U.S. senators and congressmen have also either jumped on this asinine bandwagon or have publicly admonished Shinseki for the VA’s lack of performance. The irony behind all of this hot air is that under Shinseki’s leadership, the VA has made more strides in improving its processes than under any of his predecessors. Before Shinseki, being the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs was little more than an honorary title --- a position that allowed an established individual to fly all over the world delivering speeches about the greatness of America’s veterans.

Fixing a bureaucracy as enormous as the VA takes time, and is painful. There are decades worth of policies and procedures that Shinseki’s team is working to either fix, undo, or replace. This is not an easy task, and neither is it simple. Shinseki knew this when he accepted the position to lead the VA. Obviously, Congress and the VSOs did not receive the same memo. Maybe they should have been paying attention these past 30 years.

The other issue at play here is that if Shinseki were to resign, willingly or otherwise, at the snail-like rate that White House personnel is vetting and approving potential presidential appointees and the irresponsibly slow rate that the U.S. Senate is approving presidential appointments, whoever is selected as the acting secretary of the VA would remain so throughout the remainder of the Obama administration. What this means is that the only way Obama would be able to get a new VA secretary appointed is if he appointed a Republican to hold the position, because that is the only way the Senate Republicans would not hold up the appointment.

Senator Burr’s letter is nothing more than a strategic means in which to employ his own agenda of looking patriotic, while looking strong to the Republican faithful by attempting to tarnish President Obama’s record of genuine service to our nation’s veterans and their family members. It is irresponsible to call for Secretary Shinseki’s resignation and I am pleased that the VFW did not buckle to media and political scrutiny.

Terron Sims, II, is a West Point graduate and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is a Veteran and Military Family (VMF) policy expert and is on the Board of Principals for the Truman National Security Project.


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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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