I had the chance to attend the confirmation hearings for Secretary of Veterans Affairs-designate Gen. Eric K. Shinseki (Ret.) this morning. PTSD and TBI have been called by some (including Sen. Tester today) the "signature" health issues associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as a result have raised the profile of mental health and addiction treatment in the Veterans Health Administration. VHA is the nation's largest health care system (with over 5 million patients), and therefore the Department of Veterans Affairs has a direct and immediate impact on the state of addiction treatment in the U.S. as a whole, in addition to the role it serves for veterans themselves.
Gen. Shinseki walks with President-elect Obama on Dec. 7, 2008, before he is announced as Sec. of VA-designate. Photo used with a Creative Commons license from the Obama-Biden Transition Project's Photostream.
Former Sen. Bob Dole (who authored the Dole-Shalala Report on veterans' health care in 2007) and current Sen. Daniel Inouye from Hawaii made brief statements in support of Gen. Shinseki at the start of the hearing. They both highlighted his impressive resume: West Point graduate, twice wounded in Vietnam (including losing most of his foot, after which he fought to remain on active duty), head of peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, Army Chief of Staff, and, perhaps most famously, his testimony before Congress in February 2003 when he estimated that "several hundred thousand" servicemembers would be needed to occupy Iraq (for which he was publicly rebuked and privately ostracized by others in the Department of Defense).
As all the members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee made clear, there was no doubt that Gen. Shinseki would be confirmed. With the pressure off, in some ways that made the senators' and Gen. Shinseki's comments all the more revealing. Here are a few highlights: