HONOLULU — Members of Hawaii's congressional delegation acknowledged that former Kauai resident and retired Army Gen. Eric "Ric" Shinseki's commitment to the nation's veterans is unquestionable but that his tenure as Department of Veterans Affairs secretary had become a distraction.
Shinseki, 71, was driven from office by a growing scandal over the agency's health care system that serves millions of the nation's veterans. After apologizing in public Friday, Shinseki, who grew up on Kauai and graduated from Kauai High School in 1960, resigned.
President Barack Obama appointed Shinseki in January 2009. Shinseki was the highest-ranked Asian-American to have served in the U.S. military when he was forced out after 38 years of service.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard added that the retired four-star general "is an American hero; he is a man of character and integrity, with a deep love and commitment for serving our country. Veterans everywhere, and the people of Gen. Shinseki's home state of Hawaii, continue to have great love and respect for him and his service. There is no question that he took his responsibility as secretary of the VA personally and seriously, because he cares deeply for his fellow veterans, and did his best to lead a VA riddled with challenges that have existed for decades."
Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services and the Veterans' Affairs committees, said that Shinseki's "patriotism and dedication to this nation is without parallel.
Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz described Shinseki, a 1965 West Point graduate who served two combat tours in Vietnam, as "a war hero and public servant who gave everything he had to our country and the job of secretary of Veterans Affairs."
Rep, Colleen Hanabusa, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said: "I know that Gen. Shinseki is … guided by the question, ‘What is in the best interest of our veterans?' I think that while he would have liked to have been the leader who fixed the problems at the VA, he also recognized that we needed a change in leadership in order to proceed effectively. In that light, I think his resignation … is not a sign of failure, but of the same humility and dedication that he has always displayed in his years of service to our country. I think America and Hawaii can be proud of him."
Gabbard said she plans to introduce legislation "that will ensure that veterans are immediately able to access care from a doctor, whether in the VA system or not."
In a statement, Gov. Neil Abercrombie called Shinseki "a true son of Hawaii."
"It comes as no surprise to those of us in Hawaii who know General Eric Shinseki that he would assume responsibility for the reprehensible conduct of those in the VA, whose misconduct has led to unacceptable delays in serving the veterans for whom he has been and is a champion."
His resignation from the VA was not the first time Shinseki has been forced out of office.
In 2003 the former Army chief of staff took early retirement after upsetting the Bush administration.
In response to a question by a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Shinseki had said that occupying Iraq would require "several hundred thousand troops" to be successful. That statement was denounced by Paul D. Wolfowitz, then deputy secretary of defense, as "wildly off the mark."
In 2006, Gen. John Abizaid, then the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, acknowledged that Shinseki had been right.
Shinseki, twice wounded in the Vietnam War and the first Japanese-American to become a four-star general and serve as chief of a military service, retired after 38 years of service.
President Bill Clinton appointed him the Army's 34th chief of staff in June 1999.
In March 2004 at the opening of a special gallery dedicated to the general at the U.S. Army Museum in Fort DeRussy, Shinseki said the two most important things he did were to choose a profession that he had never regretted and marry his high school sweetheart from Waimea High School, Patricia Yoshinobu. The couple have two children.
Shinseki told reporters then he still saw himself "just as an average kid from Kauai" whose parents drilled into him the importance of education.
"Their values and their ethics about respect for others and never being afraid of hard work — that was a great foundation for someone in my shoes."
The Shinseki gallery includes personal items like his West Point tunic, a Father's Day Vietnam "combat postcard" made from a C-ration box to his father, Tamotsu Shinseki, and his black beret with four stars.
The museum is closed for renovation. It will reopen June 16.