Vets: Eric Shinseki's resignation doesn't solve problems

Before President Obama on Friday morning announced that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki had submitted his resignation, Shinseki spoke at the annual conference of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) -- and received multiple standing ovations from the veterans and veteran advocates in attendance.

The spontaneous and rousing show of support for the embattled secretary illustrated that veterans understand the challenge of running the VA -- the nation's second-largest bureaucracy. At the same time, conference attendees said they understood the calls for Shinseki's resignation, given the enormity of the problems at VA hospitals.

"I think they want accountability," Marine Corps veteran Iris Martinez said with respect to the many politicians -- on the right and the left -- who called for Shinseki to go. However, she told CBS News, "I don't think putting him out of the position was necessarily the right thing to do... He started the work, they should him try to finish it. He identified the issues, he tried to correct them, and that's all we can ask for. He's doing the best he can under the circumstances."


As a veteran who now serves as the director of housing and employment services at an organization called Veterans Link Up in Miami, Fla., Martinez has witnessed firsthand Shinseki's accomplishments at the VA. In 2009, when more than 75,000 vets spent any given night without a home, Shinseki set the goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015. By 2013, the number of homeless veterans was reduced to 57,849, and advocates say Shinseki's goal of eliminating veteran homelessness is within sight.

When it comes to helping homeless veterans, NCHV president John Driscoll told CBS News, Shinseki "has probably done more in the last five years than [the VA accomplished] in the 10 years combined before he came into office... He's the one who put the nation on the path to achieve that goal."

Driscoll said the outcry over the secret waiting lists and other misconduct at VA hospitals was "absolutely appropriate," though he thinks Shinseki could have turned the problem around if given the time and resources. Now, he said the NCHV and other advocacy groups "owe it" to Shinseki to reach his goal of ending veteran homelessness.

Reaching that goal, he stressed, it will require sustained leadership from the VA -- at multiple levels.

"It depends an awful lot on the effort and success of the Veterans Health Administration staff, particularly the office of homeless programs," he said. "That staff, I believe, will continue the legacy and build upon it regardless of who becomes the new secretary."

Mike Langford, a case manager who helps veterans at The Kitchen, Inc. in Springfield, Missouri, has seen the work Shinseki's done for homeless veterans. He's also familiar, however, with the problems in the hospital system. Langford's wife is a veteran struggling with Gulf War Syndrome, and she often has to wait six or seven months to schedule a follow-up appointment -- and often ends up seeing a new doctor, he explained to CBS News.

Even so, Langford said Shinseki "inherited a mess" and has "done a good job attempting to correct it."

"Five years ago it was a lot harder to get into the VA, at least in Kansas City, than it is now," he said, expressing concern that new leadership at the VA will mean a delay in progress.

Tom Carter, an Army veteran based in the Chicago area, told CBS News he hasn't been impressed with Shinseki's leadership. Carter receives care at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital -- where a whistleblower told CBS News that hospital wait lists have been routinely falsified. Carter said his care at the facility has been good, but he's witnessed deeply-entrenched dysfunction that will take more than just a change of leadership at the top to fix.

"The leadership is not going to invoke the needed changes -- it's more systemic than that," he said. Carter said that his experience with teaching hospitals linked to the VA system has been very positive, and he'd like to see more VA hospitals associate with medical colleges.

When CBS News sought out reaction to Shinseki's resignation from veterans online, the response was mixed.

"I think as an honored veteran himself he should have been allowed to clean up the mess, then he could retire/resign with honor," Paul Avery said on Twitter.

"I'd like to see improvement and changes. This is change but I'd rather see changes to access and quality," Pete Puebla, Jr. said on Twitter. Giff Cappellini added, "The buck stops with him. He failed our veterans"

On CBSNews.com, Vietnam veteran Dave Kendall said, "The resignation of Gen. Shinseki is needed but the problems existed long before he came on board. Now is the time to stop the political finger pointing and posturing and start to work seriously on servicing our veterans with the same vigor that they have served us."

The Veterans of Foreign Wars released a statement after Shinseki's resignation was announced, warning that "change will not come easy to the VA."

"The new secretary will inherit a host of ongoing challenges, but he or she must immediately identify and fix what's broken, to hold people accountable to the maximum extent of the law, and to do whatever is necessary to help restore the full faith and confidence of veterans in their VA," William Thien, the VFW national commander, said in a statement. "Members of Congress have an equal responsibility to put their individual political agendas aside and do what they were elected to do. The VFW will never tolerate politics as usual when it comes to the proper care and treatment of our nation's heroes."

Thien added that Shinseki was a leader whose "personal integrity and commitment to duty and to others is above reproach," but calls for his resignation were overshadowing the task at hand.

Howard Charton, who helps homeless veterans through the New York City-based nonprofit Common Ground, told CBS News he considered the outcry "politicized" but agreed that "there needs to be accountability."

Still, after listening to Shinseki address the NCHV conference three years in a row, Charton said he felt Shinseki provided the kind of leadership the VA needs. "He comes here and he challenges us every single time," he said.

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