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Obama set to name Shinseki VA secretary

Obama set to name Shinseki VA secretary

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to be the next Veterans Affairs secretary, turning to a former Army chief of staff once vilified by the Bush administration for questioning its Iraq war strategy.
Obama will announce the selection of Shinseki, the first Army four-star general of Japanese-American ancestry, at a news conference Sunday in Chicago. He will be the first Asian-American to hold the post of Veterans Affairs secretary, adding to the growing diversity of Obama's Cabinet.
"I think that General Shinseki is exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home," Obama said in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" to be broadcast Sunday.
NBC released a transcript of the interview after The Associated Press reported that Shinseki was Obama's pick.
Shinseki's tenure as Army chief of staff from 1999 to 2003 was marked by constant tensions with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which boiled over in 2003 when Shinseki testified to Congress that it might take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to control Iraq after the invasion.
Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, belittled the estimate as "wildly off the mark" and the army general was forced out within months. But Shinseki's words proved prophetic after President George W. Bush in early 2007 announced a "surge" of additional troops to Iraq after miscalculating the numbers needed to stem sectarian violence.
Obama said he selected Shinseki for the VA post because he "was right" in predicting that the United States would need more troops in Iraq than Rumsfeld believed at the time.
"When I reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans and, I think about how so many veterans around the country are struggling even more than those who have not served _ higher unemployment rates, higher homeless rates, higher substance abuse rates, medical care that is inadequate _ it breaks my heart," Obama told NBC.
Shinseki, 66, will take the helm of the government's second largest agency, which has been roundly criticized during the Bush administration for underestimating the amount of funding needed to treat thousands of injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thousands of veterans endure six-month waits for receiving disability benefits, despite promises by current VA Secretary James Peake and his predecessor, Jim Nicholson, to reduce delays. The department also is scrambling to upgrade government technology systems before new legislation providing for millions of dollars in new GI benefits takes effect next August.
Obama's choice of Shinseki, who grew up in Hawaii, is the latest indication that the president-elect is making good on his pledge to have a diverse Cabinet.
In Obama's eight Cabinet announcements so far, white men are the minority with two nominations _ Timothy Geithner at Treasury and Robert Gates at Defense. Three are women _ Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security, Susan Rice as United Nations ambassador and Hillary Rodham Clinton at State. Rice and Eric Holder at the Justice Department are African American, while Bill Richardson at Commerce is Latino.
Also Saturday, Obama said that he's asked his economic team for a recovery plan that saves or creates more than 2 million jobs, makes public buildings more energy-efficient and invests in the country's roads and schools.
"We won't just throw money at the problem," Obama said in the Democratic Party's weekly radio address. "We'll measure progress by the reforms we make and the results we achieve _ by the jobs we create, by the energy we save, by whether America is more competitive in the world."
Obama's remarks come after the Labor Department announced Friday that employers cut 533,000 jobs in November, the most in 34 years.
Obama said his plan would put millions of people to work by "making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s."
He also wants to install energy-saving light bulbs and replace old heating systems in federal buildings to cut costs and create jobs.
School buildings would get an upgrade, too. "Because to help our children compete in a 21st century economy, we need to send them to 21st century schools," Obama said.
As a part of the plan, Obama said he wants to expand Internet access in communities. Hospitals also should be connected to each other online.
"Here, in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online," he said.
Obama said he would announce other details of the economic recovery plan in the coming weeks. He said he'd work with Congress to pass the initiative when lawmakers reconvene in January.


Updated : 2021-10-25 05:22 GMT+08:00