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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Shinseki vows to focus on care

 •  Shinseki seen as shaped on Kauai

By Hope Yen
Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki

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WASHINGTON Retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki pledged to move quickly to fix gaps in healthcare if confirmed as Veterans Affairs secretary, saying he will reopen benefits to hundreds of thousands of middle-income veterans denied during the Bush administration.

In a 54-page disclosure obtained yesterday by the Associated Press, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to head the government's second-largest agency also urged Congress to set VA funding a year in advance to minimize political pressures. And the former Army chief of staff said he will step down from the corporate boards of defense contractors to alleviate potential conflicts of interest.

"If confirmed, I would focus on these issues and the development of a credible and adequate 2010 budget request during my first 90 days in office," Shinseki wrote to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, noting that VA funding in the past created "significant management difficulties" that delayed medical care.

The Senate committee is scheduled to hold Shinseki's confirmation hearing on Jan. 14.

Shinseki, 66, who is from Kaua'i, said he resigned from the boards of Honeywell International Inc., which holds billions in contracts with the U.S. Army, as well as Ducommun Inc., which services defense contractors such as Boeing Inc. by manufacturing parts for aircraft. Because he will continue to receive undisclosed sums of deferred compensation from those firms, Shinseki said he also will recuse himself from any VA decisions involving those companies.

The former Army chief of staff also said he will stop doing business at his consulting company Pegasus Associates Inc. and will resign positions at Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, First Hawaiian Bank and DC Capital Partners.

Shinseki, who was once vilified by the Bush administration for questioning its Iraq War strategy, said a top goal will be to fulfill Obama's campaign promise to expand care to veterans who were denied access due to cost-cutting. Such "Priority 8" veterans, whose income exceeded roughly $30,000 annually, were blocked from enrollment in the VA system in January 2003.

During the presidential campaign, Obama promised to restore benefits to the Priority 8 veterans and to improve overall funding at the VA. The VA was roundly criticized during the Bush administration for underestimating the amount of money needed to treat thousands of injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.