From the Associated Press:
VA Secretary Jim Nicholson abruptly resigned Tuesday after months of the Bush administration struggling to defend charges of shoddy treatment for veterans injured in the Iraq war. Nicholson, a former Republican National Committee chairman and a Vietnam veteran, was picked by President Bush to head the Veterans Affairs Department in 2005. Planning to return to the private sector, he said his resignation is to take effect no later than Oct. 1.
Nicholson, 69, is the latest in a line of senior officials heading for the exits in the final 1 1/2 years of the Bush administration. "This coming February, I turn 70 years old, and I feel it is time for me to get back into business, while I still can," Nicholson said. He had no specific jobs lined up.
Click on 'Article Link' below tags for reactions to the news...
A compilation of reactions to the news of Nicholson's resignation.
National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC) of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) which represents over 150,000 Veterans Affairs (VA) employees:
"The ensuing changes in the department represent a crucial opportunity for the Department of Veterans Affairs to reexamine its framework," said Alma Lee president of AFGE's NVAC Council 53. "Our members in the VA provide care for more than 5.8 million veterans, it is critical that we take this opportunity to accent our strengths and address the system's critical failures of chronic budget shortfalls, inadequate resources, and staffing shortages. We believe this is an opportunity for significant change." ...
"As the employees' representative, we are committed to working with the new leadership in a meaningful way to provide essential, expert care to our nation's veterans," said John Gage, national president of AFGE. "As the VA employee union, we have an obligation to ensure that our veterans receive quality health services and actively advocate in their best interest."
Throughout Secretary Nicholson's tenure the rank and file employees of the VA actively expressed their concerns over the adequacy of healthcare being provided to veterans. These employees, many of whom are veterans themselves, have been at the forefront of veterans' healthcare advocacy by leading the fight against privatizing health services and contracting out within the VA system.
Nicholson "has served his country and his fellow veterans with distinction. ...For over two and a half years, Jim has worked to improve the federal government's ability to care for our nation's veterans," the president said. "As our troops continue to fight in the global war on terror, Jim has led innovative efforts to ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs is better prepared to address the challenges facing our newest generation of heroes after they return home."
The Canton [OH] Repository:
President Bush may say that Jim Nicholson was an innovative leader at the Veterans Affairs Department, but his tenure was marked more by crisis management. Nicholson's abrupt announcement Tuesday that he will resign was greeted by cheers in Washington that sounded more like "good riddance" than "job well done."
Nicholson's two years as VA secretary have been marked by monumental problems, from poor health-care planning and inadequate budgeting for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, to the largest data security breach in government history. He is a Vietnam war veteran, but nothing else in his background recommended him for the complex administrative job Bush gave him in 2005.
The former owner of a construction company, Nicholson has been U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and chairman of the Republican National Committee. Bush's favoring cronyism over competence has ill-served our men and women in uniform at a time when their needs should be paramount.
Rep. Phil Hare [D-IL]:
"In May, I called on Secretary Nicholson to resign after he approved a number of bonuses for senior VA personnel at the same time the Department was failing to meet the needs of our veterans. While I believe a change in leadership at the VA is absolutely necessary, the ongoing hurdles veterans face when attempting to access health care and other services goes much deeper than the shortcomings of one man.
The next Secretary will inherit a disability claims backlog of 600,000, staffing shortages at our vet centers, and ongoing challenges at Walter Reed and other medical facilities that care for our wounded soldiers. Democrats in Congress have offered their help-passing the single largest funding increase in the 77 year history of the VA this year. But our veterans deserve leadership from the executive branch as well. Part of that leadership demands a Secretary that is forthcoming about the resources the Department has and the resources it needs to ensure no veteran slips through the cracks.
I strongly urge President Bush to nominate a veterans' veteran-someone in the mold of former Republican VA Secretary Anthony Principi-who will put the needs of our fighting men and women above any political ideology. I look forward to working with the new Secretary to help provide every single veteran with the benefits they deserve."
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA):
"Secretary Nicholson's resignation should be welcome news for all veterans. Tens of thousands of veterans currently are waiting for their first VA appointment, and the backlog of veterans' benefits claims has increased by more than 50% in three years, to more than 350,000. The VA under Secretary Nicholson has also been woefully unprepared for the influx of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, consistently underestimating the number of new veterans who would seek care, and failing to spend the money Congress allotted to treat mental health issues." said Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "Bottom line: Secretary Nicholson is the FEMA Director Michael Brown that America doesn't know about." ...
"President Bush now has a tremendous opportunity to replace Secretary Nicholson with a well-qualified and effective candidate. We urge the President to reach far and wide into the growing community of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for feedback and possible replacements. Our nation's heroes and their families deserve the best possible leadership President Bush can provide."
For more information on Secretary Nicholson's tenure at the Department of Veterans Affairs, please see our Fact Sheet [pdf].
Sen. Larry Craig [R-ID]:
Idaho Senator Larry Craig says Veterans Administration chief Jim Nicholson deserves praise for leading the agency during the difficulties caused by the Iraq war. ... Craig, a Republican, says Nicholson deserves credit because he fought hard to improve care for those dealing with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Craig also says Nicholson recently directed the VA to hire more outreach coordinators to make sure those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan get needed care and approved over 80 new community clinics to bring VA care closer to the nation's veterans.
From the Rochester [NY] Democrat & Chronicle:
Stability needed for V.A. department
Departing Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson had exactly the kind of record in office that many predicted when the former Republican national chairman was shoehorned into the job two years ago. In a word, disastrous.
Nicholson's only skill proved to be his survivability in the face of failure. President Bush should have eased him to the door when the scandal involving the care of returning Iraq war veterans broke last year. If anything, the V.A. should be ensuring the exemplary care and treatment of veterans in a time of war. That's a fundamental task, and Nicholson didn't accomplish it.
The V.A. secretary has been a revolving-door job in Washington for years. Bush has gone through two V.A. heads; Clinton had four. Appointments have been overly political, though in that regard, Nicholson's was perhaps the most blatant.
Bush should quickly name someone with a strong record on veterans' issues and an administrative background suited to the job of running a $77 billion department. And, ideally, it will be someone who understands the special needs of young and aging veterans in upstate New York. As V.A. resources have been moved to the South and West, this region's needs too often have gotten short shrift. A final call on use of the Canandaigua medical campus has been too long delayed.
The V.A. needs stability at the top. Those returning from Iraq deserve no less, as do those who served this country in wars past.
Sen. Patty Murray [D-WA]:
"These are serious times for the Department of Veterans Affairs and we need the president to send us a serious nominee to fill the job. That means a truthful advocate for veterans, not an apologist for this administration's failures to plan," said Murray, a Washington Democrat and a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
"The next VA secretary must have a record of being a strong and independent voice for veterans — not someone being rewarded for political loyalty," said Murray, who has battled with Nicholson over problems ranging from conditions at psychiatric wards at the VA hospitals in Seattle and Tacoma to overall care of the nation's veterans.
"The VA secretary's duty is to protect veterans, not a dishonest administration," Murray said. "Our veterans deserve to know that the head of the VA system can stand up to the White House and fight for the resources and benefits our veterans need."
"The American Legion wishes VA Secretary Jim Nicholson well in his future endeavors. We thank him for his service both as a U.S. Army veteran and for his leadership as head of the nation's largest health care system. We look forward to working with his successor on continuing to improve health benefits and services to America's veterans."
"This resignation is long overdue, and welcome. Jim Nicholson had no business handling our nation's veterans, and was an inept political appointee like Michael Brown at FEMA," said Jon Soltz, an Iraq war veteran who is chair of the largest political group of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans, VoteVets.org. "The result of his tenure at the VA was a bungled budget that was billions short, budget cuts that hurt veterans, and personal data of thousands of veterans being stolen. Nicholson resigning is the best thing to happen to our nation's veterans during the Bush administration."
Sen. Wayne Allard [R-CO]:
“I was surprised to hear about the resignation of my friend and fellow Coloradan, Secretary Jim Nicholson. Having assumed control of the VA at an extremely difficult time, he has been a tireless advocate for veterans, and his efforts have helped to bring the VA up to speed in order to meet the current needs of our veterans.
“I would especially like to commend Secretary Nicholson for the instrumental role he played in reinvigorating the construction of a new VA hospital in Aurora on the Fitzsimons campus. Without his support, this project would not have progressed to the point were it is today. I will certainly miss Secretary Nicholson, and I thank him for his exceptional service on behalf of our veterans.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA]:
"Secretary Nicholson's resignation provides President Bush with an opportunity to break with the Administration's history of underfunding VA health care and work with Congress to meet the needs of America's veterans.
"The President's repeated failure to request adequate funding for the VA has undermined the quality of health America promised to our veterans. A recent VA report outlined 1,000 specific problems at VA facilities around the country. There is also a backlog of more than 400,000 veterans benefit claims waiting to be processed by the VA.
"To bring change to Washington and finally begin to meet the needs of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, House Democrats passed the largest increase in veterans' health care in the 77-year history of the VA and provided for improvements in VA benefits totaling nearly $12 billion.
"With the VA expected to treat 5.8 million patients in the coming year -- including more than 260,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans -- we must invest in the health care and benefits we promised our returning heroes. I urge the President to appoint a new VA Secretary who will work with the Democratic Congress to ensure that our veterans receive the health care and benefits that they were promised and that they deserve."
Vietnam Veterans of America:
"Vietnam Veterans of America is surprised by the sudden announcement of the departure of Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson. We respect Jim Nicholson's attempts to address several of the problems confronting his department's ability to meet the growing needs of veterans," VVA National President John Rowan said today upon learning of Nicholson's intent to end his tenure as leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs, which with today's announcement will end by October 1st.
"While not generally known to the organized veterans' community prior to his appointment at the beginning of President Bush's second term, Mr. Nicholson did preside over a number of accomplishments during his almost three years at the head of the VA, as well as weather some real storms of controversy," Rowan said. "While Secretary Nicholson was able to expand the number of Community-based Outreach Clinics, begin to restore much needed staffing levels in mental health, and greatly expand the outreach and services for younger veterans from the wars of today, his tenure was also marked by public funding shortfalls in the summer of 2005 and the highly publicized losses of highly personal and confidential medical information for millions of veterans."
Sen. Barack Obama [D-IL]:
Obama says it's clear that Nicholson is leaving the VA worse off than he found it. Obama said "Nicholson oversaw one of the most tumultuous periods in recent VA history, including billion-dollar budget shortfalls, ongoing cuts in services to certain groups of veterans and the continuation of a dysfunctional bureaucracy that keeps many veterans from getting the disability benefits they deserve."
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