"As we seek a new national security strategy that uses all elements of American power, we must also remember those who run the greatest risks and make the greatest sacrifices to implement that strategy – the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America," the president-elect said in announcing his choice yesterday.
Obama echoed the words of Abraham Lincoln when he said the nation has a sacred trust to serve those who have borne the cost of battle.
"We must show them and their families the same devotion that they have shown this country," he said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Shinseki will succeed retired Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) James B. Peake in leading the second-largest federal department, with 240,000 employees. Some 23.4 million veterans are alive today, and the department is their point of contact for compensation and pensions, medical care, education and training, home loans and other benefits. Last year, the VA had a budget of $93.4 billion.
The government must do everything it can to help those veterans who suffer "from the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury," Obama said in Chicago.
Obama also promised to help those who leave the service to find work.
The United States needs to modernize the VA, cut red tape there and eliminate shortfalls, the president-elect said.
"That is the kind of VA that will serve our veterans as well as they have served us," he said. "And there is no one more distinguished, more determined, or more qualified to build this VA than the leader I am announcing as our next secretary of veterans affairs -- General Eric Shinseki.
"No one will ever doubt that this former Army chief of staff has the courage to stand up for our troops and our veterans," he continued. "No one will ever question whether he will fight hard enough to make sure they have the support they need."
Shinseki retired as chief of staff in 2003 after a four-year term. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and served two combat tours in Vietnam as a young officer. He lost part of his foot in Vietnam, was awarded three Bronze Star awards and two Purple Hearts.
Shinseki said today's veterans "are a part of an unbroken line of heroes that stretches back to the American Revolution." Still, there are veterans worried about keeping their health care or homes, he said.
"Veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular, are confronting serious, severe wounds - some seen, some unseen – making it difficult for them to get on with their lives in this struggling economy," he said. "They deserve a smooth, error-free, no-fail, benefits-assured transition into our ranks as veterans, and that is our responsibility, not theirs.
"A word to my fellow veterans: If confirmed, I will work each and every day to ensure that we are serving you as well as you have served us," Shinseki continued. "We will pursue a 21st-century VA that serves your needs. We will open ... new doors of opportunity so you can find a good job, support your families when you return to civilian life. And ... we will always honor the sacrifices of those who have worn the uniform, and their loved ones."