Mad as Hell: D.C. Definition

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki reenters the hearing room after testifying to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee about wait times veterans face  to get medical care on May 15, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki reenters the hearing room after testifying to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee about wait times veterans face to get medical care on May 15, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The general in charge is “mad as hell” about the backlog in care at the overburdened Department of Veterans Affairs.

The president is even “madder than hell.”

All of which begs the second part of one of the most memorable lines in modern cinema.

When Marlon Brando lamented the fact that he “coulda’ been a contender,” the star of  1954′s “On the Waterfront” went on to say: “Instead of a bum, which is what I am.” When Peter Finch presaged the downfall of television news as the outraged anchor gone rogue in 1976′s “Network” with Paddy Chayefsky’s line: “I’m mad as hell,” he went on to say: “And I’m not going to take this any more.”

Segue to Eric Shinseki, the retired four-star general serving as VA secretary, taken to task at the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee last week over reportedly fatal delays in treatment at VA hospitals and fudging of records on the enormity of backlogs there:

“Any allegation, any adverse incident like this makes me mad as hell,” the secretary said.

“If these allegations are true, they‘re completely unacceptable to me, to veterans,” Shinseki told the committee. “I’m committed to take all actions necessary to identify exactly what the issues are, to fix them and to strengthen veterans’ trust in VA health care,” he said. “If any allegations are substantiated by the inspector general, we will act.”

Then, on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” yesterday, Denis McDonough, President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, said of the VA scandal:

“The president is madder than hell. And I’ve got the scars to prove it, given the briefings that I’ve given the president, the conversations that he and Rick and I have had on these matters. ”

And then?

Bob Kerrey, the former Democratic senator and governor from Nebraska and Navy SEAL who spent several years in the care of the VA after coming home from Vietnam with a Medal of Honor and part of a leg missing, said today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Shinseki has lost the confidence of the agency’s employees and Congress alike.

“It is time for the president to replace him,” said Kerrey, calling on Obama to identify an Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran to run the agency. “You’ve got to restore confidence, because that confidence is gone… You’ve got to come with the right sense of urgency.”

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