VA Secretary: Sorry about that whole "I was in Special Ops" thing, y'all

Barack Obama appointed Robert McDonald to restore the credibility of the Veterans Administration after years of corruption and cover-ups. How’s that working out? Oh, about as well as you’d expect. McDonald, a veteran who served in the 82nd Airborne, claimed to have also served in special operations forces, a claim McDonald was forced to retract last night:

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has apologized for making false claims about having served in the the U.S. military’s elite special operations forces, the latest scandal to hit the besieged department.

The incident, first reported Monday by the Huffington Post, took place last month as the new secretary participated in an overnight count of homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area. The event is an annual survey of the homeless population, with volunteers engaging with individuals living on the streets to learn about their backgrounds and challenges.

“While I was in Los Angeles, engaging a homeless individual to determine his Veteran status, I asked the man where he had served in the military,” McDonald said in a statement released to Military Times late Monday night. “He responded that he had served in special forces. I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces. That 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.”

Clearly, that much is true. He respects them so much he wanted to be them. It’s not as if McDonald didn’t have an impressive military career; the 82nd Airborne is an elite unit too, and McDonald graduated from West Point. He even had Ranger training, but never actually served in a Ranger unit.  What makes someone with an already impressive record try to puff it up with false claims like this? It’s mystifying.

Here’s McDonald borrowing a little valor a month ago, in the on-camera exchange that McDonald had to walk back last night:

It’s an embellishment, not fabulism per se. McDonald isn’t in Brian Williams territory, at least not with this one incident, although if more arise that might change. But it still doesn’t look good for someone who has been tasked to lead the VA out of the “embellishment” of wait-list fraud, where veterans died while getting stuck waiting for care. If the man at the top fudges his own record, what kind of message does that send to the rest of the VA?

It also puts this exchange with  Rep. Mike Coffman two weeks ago in a rather interesting light:

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald got ­defensive at a hearing on the agency’s budget Wednesday, snapping at one congressman who suggested he’d accomplished little in his first six months on the job.

“I ran a large company, sir, what have you done?” McDonald said to Rep.Mike Coffman ­(R-Colo.) in a heated exchange.

(For what it’s worth, Coffman founded a property-management firm and served as secretary of state and treasurer in Colorado. McDonald was CEO of Procter & Gamble.) …

Coffman spokesman Tyler Sandberg sent us an e-mail noting that the congressman is a combat veteran who served in both Iraq wars.

“More to the point, Mike Coffman has been fighting for years to fix the failures of the Department of Veterans Affairs, but he can’t legislate leadership,” Sandberg said. “Notwithstanding Secretary McDonald’s obnoxious comments, Rep. Coffman is concerned that the Secretary will never fix the problems at the VA so long as he refuses to fully acknowledge that his organization continues to be dysfunctional at every level.”

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, summed it up on Twitter: “Fireworks! There is a new sheriff in town. Sec McDonald is not taking any crap from Congress. Attack him at your own peril.”

Well, McDonald might not be taking crap, but he’s been dishing some of it out, apparently. And the question “what have you done?” might be better applied to McDonald, especially given the lack of progress at the VA.

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Jazz Shaw 5:01 PM on March 22, 2023