V.A. Secretary Apologizes for Embellishing Military Record – First Draft. Political News, Now. – NYTimes.com
Robert A. McDonald, the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, apologized on Monday for falsely claiming last month that he had served in the Special Forces.
Mr. McDonald, a 1975 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where he completed jungle, arctic, desert warfare and Ranger training, according to his official biography.
But his assertion to a homeless veteran in Los Angeles that he was in the Special Forces — captured on camera for a CBS News report — was false, he acknowledged on Monday. His initial claim was first reported by The Huffington Post.
Mr. McDonald said in a statement that his claim “was inaccurate, and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement.”
“I have great respect for those who have served our nation in Special Forces,” Mr. McDonald said. “They, and all veterans, deserve a Department of Veterans Affairs that provides them the care and benefits they have earned.”
He said he would “remain committed” to improving veterans’ services and overhauling the department.
White House officials said they accepted Mr. McDonald’s explanation.
“Secretary McDonald has apologized for the misstatement and noted that he never intended to misrepresent his military service,” the White House said. “We take him at his word and expect that this will not impact the important work he’s doing to promote the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans.”
Mr. McDonald’s comments were recorded during a CBS News segment broadcast on Jan. 30 about the Veterans Affairs Department’s efforts to help homeless veterans. During that report, Mr. McDonald was shown talking with a man who said he had served in the Special Forces.
“Special Forces – what years?” Mr. McDonald asked. “I was in Special Forces.”
Mr. Obama named Mr. McDonald, a former chief executive of Procter & Gamble, to head the veterans department in June after it was rocked by a scandal that included accusations that veterans had died while awaiting care.
Mr. McDonald said on NBC this month that 60 people had been fired for their part in the misconduct, but the fact-checking website PolitiFact.com rated his statement as “false,” saying that fewer than 20 had been dismissed and that others had been disciplined.
The V.A. acknowledged that Mr. McDonald’s claim that his department has “fired” 60 people was incorrect.
“Regarding the 60 figure, it is most accurate to say that ‘V.A. has proposed disciplinary action related to data manipulation or patient care against more than 60 employees nationwide,’ ” an official said. That includes “the full range of accountability actions including admonishments, demotions, reprimands and termination.”
At least one lawmaker who oversees veterans’ issues downplayed the significance of Mr. McDonald’s embellishment of his military record.
“The secretary’s misstatement was an error, but it doesn’t dim the fact that he served honorably,” said Representative Mike Coffman, Republican of Colorado and chairman of the Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “We should all take him at his word and Washington shouldn’t spend the next two weeks arguing about it.”
Mr. Coffman said Mr. McDonald’s job is to “clean up the scandal-plagued V.A. This latest controversy shouldn’t shift one iota of focus away from that long overdue task.”