A conversation about triumph and determination. And an opera for a ghost.
Shinseki's Resignation 'Overdue' Says Phoenix Vet
President Barack Obama accepted the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki Friday morning. For many local veterans and veteran advocacy groups, it was welcome news.
When retired VA physician Dr. Sam Foote went to the media with accusations of secret waiting lists in Phoenix, he admits, he never thought the scandal would get this big.
"I was thinking that most likely the outcome of this would be the removal of the local phoenix folks," Foote said. "I did not think it would take out people in Washington."
But he said overall Shinseki’s resignation is a good thing.
"If he had stayed on, it just would have slowed the process down and it would have shifted the focus away from trying to solve the problem to why is he still there," said Foote.
But Foote added, he has mixed feelings. Foote puts most of the blame on other administrators like Robert Petzl, the VA Undersecretary for Health who has since resigned. To Foote, it seemed like Shinseki was unaware of much of the mismanagement within the VA.
"I guess that because it happened on his watch, he’s going to be stained with this," Foote said.
For Phoenix veteran Barry Whirley, that’s the key. Whirley shared his thoughts over a plate of French fries at the American Legion Post 1 bar.
"I think he should have been fired," said Whirley. "He’s a war veteran, we’re all veterans, and he just didn’t do his job. This shouldn’t have happened."
Whirley’s friend Frank Herbert agreed. He said scheduling delays had been around long before Shinseki.
"That problem should have been solved a long time ago," Herbert said. "Probably before he was even in office. It’s been an ongoing problem since before Bush was in office…is getting admitted."
However both men say that while they were pleased to hear about the resignation, their own experience at the Phoenix medical center have been mostly positive, especially Herbert, whose cancer has been in remission since last May.
"I’ve had great doctors. I even have their home numbers and their cell phone numbers so I’ve had great experiences with them," said Herbert.
Not everyone shares that experience though. American Legion Post 41 commander Richard Lucero maintained that he and several of his members have seen months long wait times in the past to see their primary care physicians.
"That’s where it starts is at the top unfortunately for the leaders. If they’re unable to lead or find out what’s going on in their command, they need to be replaced," urged Lucero.
That move was something many Arizona lawmakers and veteran advocacy groups had been calling for since news of the scandal broke. Dan Caldwell is with Concerned Veterans for America. He says the high-level removal is a step in the right direction.
"I want to be clear that him resigning does not fix everything at the VA," said Caldwell. "In fact a lot more people need to be fired or resign at the VA."
As a local vet himself, Caldwell says the move was needed to restore veteran confidence in the system.
"I personally didn’t have a lot of confidence in the VA. It felt very inefficient, ineffective and that they weren’t providing benefits and healthcare in a timely and efficient manner," he added.
Taking Shinseki’s place on an interim basis will be VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson. Caldwell says Concerned veterans for America would like to see someone from the private sector or retired military take the position permanently.
The Phoenix VA did not immediately return a request for comment.
Updated 5/30/2014 at 5:19 p.m.