Military Connection: The VA’s Valley Forge: By Joe Silva

Valley Forge

At Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, during the winter of 1777-1778, the Continental Army lost nearly 2,500 men. The Army, under General George Washington, lost these men due to exposure, starvation and disease. Several of the founding fathers wanted to remove Washington from his post. In fact, Washington’s fellow generals in the Continental Army did much to bring disfavor to their Commander-in-chief. There was a strong push by the Continental Congress to replace Washington with General Horatio Gates. When the congressmen came to inspect the conditions at Valley Forge, Washington addressed them directly:

“Whenever the public gets dissatisfied with my service…I shall quit the helm…and retire to a private life,” General Washington told the congressmen.

The ongoing struggles for embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki may look as bleak as Washington’s future did during that disastrous winter during the Revolutionary War. But when asked to resign, their responses had similar character. “Every day, I start out with the intent to provide as much care and benefits to the people I went to war with,” said Shinseki. When he was asked to resign as Secretary of the VA, Shinseki added, “I intend to continue this mission until I’m satisfied… either that goal or I’m told by the commander-in-chief that my time has been served.”

While Washington said he would bend only to the will of the people, Shinseki said that he would bend only to the will of the President. Both leaders refused to resign their posts, despite their unpopularity.

Besides being a retired four-star general and the former chief of staff of the U.S. Army, Shinseki is a combat Veteran and a wounded warrior. During one of two tours in Vietnam, Shinseki lost part of his foot after a landmine explosion. That led to the awarding of the first of Shinseki’s two Purple Hearts. So, some might say, Shinseki is not only the head of VA healthcare, he is also a patient. In this light, accusations of Shinseki could seem a little misplaced.

For those who don’t know, Valley Forge ended up being a rallying point for the Continental Army. Their universal struggle through the harsh winter instilled a confidence and unity in the Army that had not been present the previous fall. Of course, the Continental Army went on to defeat the “unbeatable” British Army.

Most people wouldn’t compare Shinseki to our nation’s founding father. But perhaps, much like what happened with Washington and his men at Valley Forge, Shinseki’s harsh trial could lead to an improved VA. Perhaps those who work within the VA medical system will come through bleak period with a better, clearer understanding of their mission, and those who they are serving.

Veterans gave some of the best years of their lives to serve our country, and they deserve the best in return for their sacrifices. We should all make sure that we have all of the facts, weigh them and then proceed accordingly to best support our Veterans through the VA.

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Military Connection: The VA’s Valley Forge: By Joe Silva