To the editor:
I never thought that as a 35-year veteran of the armed forces that I would pick up my pen and demand the resignation of the secretary of defense for an outrageous failure of leadership in denying death benefits for the family of our fallen heroes. While now corrected, this agony went on for far too long, especially when the secretary himself had the ability to fund and correct this injustice.
As of today, neither Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel nor President Obama, the commander-in-chief, have formally apologized to the American people and especially the families of our fallen for unnecessarily increasing their burden of pain and suffering after losing a loved one in defense of the United States. Both the secretary and the commander-in-chief seem to be incapable of separating political ideology from their constitutional requirement in support of our armed forces. It took a private nonprofit group, the “Fisher House”, to come to the support of these military families in their time of need. How embarrassing for our national leaders to ask for a charity to step in and take over the government’s responsibility.
The first mark of a true leader is to take responsibility for the actions of yourself and your subordinates. In the military profession, it’s not what you say that counts, it’s what you do and what actions you take in a crisis situation. Talk is cheap. The secretary of defense, himself a combat veteran, failed in this basic tenet of leadership and had the primary responsibility to insure that this never happened in the first place. His lack of action and his silence speaks volumes. We could at least publicly thank the Fisher House for providing the necessary funding, which again already existed within the Department of Defense, even with the partial government shutdown.
This tragedy did not need to take place. The secretary of defense holds a sacred trust with the American people and with the members of the armed forces, which he leads. He let both down. In many cases, we can excuse failure. However, the American public expects the government to protect its sons and daughters in combat and when a loss of life does occur to protect and care for the families who are left behind. This failure to do so cannot be excused.
An apology from the secretary to the American people followed by his resignation would be the mark of a true leader and the first step in righting this embarrassing event.
Major General, USA (Ret.)