SENIOR MOMENTS: The Veterans Administration and Eric Shinseki

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By PHIL SHIGEKUNI

Paul Tsuneishi, a good friend of ours, lives with his wife, Aiko, at Nikkei Senior Gardens, the assisted living facility in Arleta (San Fernando Valley). A few days ago I went with them, and daughter Sharon, to an appointment they had at the Veterans Administration outpatient facility located in North Hills. Paul served during WWII, with his last tour of duty in Japan.

Because Paul’s needs require specialized attention, we were met by a committee consisting of a physician, a social worker, and two attentive women, one of whom took notes that she gave to Sharon after the meeting. We were greeted warmly, and made to feel comfortable. Paul was thanked for the service he had given to our country during the war.

After breaking for lunch, we returned to speak with an older doctor who described the treatment the committee had decided was best for Paul. We adjourned again and returned later in the afternoon to meet with an internal medicine doctor who reviewed the medicine required and ordered medication.  We were prepared to pick up the medication downstairs, but the doctor told us to wait for a while, and there appeared a pharmacist who patiently explained the use for each of the medicines prescribed.

She told us the prescription we would get in the mail.

At the end of the day Paul asked the doctor,  “How can we pay for all this medical attention, as well as the medicine being prescribed?” The doctor’s answer: “You’ve already paid by your service during the war.”

We left the clinic very impressed with the service we received from so many professional people who all seemed to genuinely care about Paul.

When we returned to Nikkei Senior Garden, I mentioned to the director, Mike Motoyasu, about the good experience we had at the VA. He told us his father was a patient there in his last days, and his family, too, was impressed by the service given to his dad.

He thought the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, who was appointed by President Obama four years ago, was largely responsible for bringing about the good treatment we experienced.

I became interested in this possibility, and got on my computer to learn more about Gen. Shinseki.

This is what I learned about him: He is 70 years old, born in Lihue, Kauai a year after Pearl Harbor. He was a Boy Scout and attended Lihue High, where he was student body president. He married his high school sweetheart, Patricia Yoshinobu, and they have two grown children, Lori and Ken.

He was inspired to enter the military by three uncles who served in the 100th/442nd. Eric graduated from West Point in 1965 and was sent to Vietnam. While there, he stepped on a land mine, which took part of his foot. He received two Purple Hearts.

After returning from Vietnam he enrolled at Duke University, where he received a master of arts in English. He then taught English at West Point for two years.

In 1999, he was appointed to chief of staff for the Army by President Clinton. During the administration of President George W. Bush, he clashed with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his assistant, Paul Wolfowitz, regarding the size of the military forces necessary to invade Iraq. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz thought a technologically advanced smaller force would be adequate. Shinseki and Colin Powell argued in favor a much larger invading force. After the Iraq invasion it was acknowledged, in a congressional hearing, that Gens. Shinseki and Powell were correct.

When he retired in 2003, he had served for 38 years. During this time, Gen. Shinseki held a number of positions, including commanding general of the First Calvary Division at Ft. Hood, Texas, and commanding general of the U.S. Army, Europe. As a four-star general, he became the highest-ranking Asian American Army officer.

The U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii is home to “The Gen. Eric K. Shinseki Exhibit,” which opened in 2004. It documents his life from his childhood in Hawaii to his career in the military.

I would have to agree with Mike Motoyasu that the good experience we had at the VA clinic is in some measure due to the leadership of Eric Shinseki. During our visit we were made aware of  a large number of services provided by the VA. If you are a veteran, I would urge you to check them out.

Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted by email. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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