President Bush has a job opening for the head of a department with a crushing backlog of work, a sharp increase in demand for services and a battered public image.
And yet the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs will have an easy act to follow, according to those for whom the job-holder serves. Jim Nicholson resigned the post Tuesday amid widespread criticism by veterans groups of his 29-month tenure. They urged the President to replace him with a strong advocate who has knowledge of the vast VA bureaucracy, health care and the growing complexity of the military. "We hope for somebody who knows their primary allegiance is to the veteran and not to the Administration or anybody else," said Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. ...
The resignation gives Bush a chance to demonstrate his commitment to veterans, including the growing numbers of those who had fought in his wars. Their representatives want a secretary who "understands that this is a new military, a new war, and there are new issues ranging from traumatic brain injury to the fact that 15% of our forces are women," said Rieckhoff. He said the President could make a "powerful statement" by choosing someone who has fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, like Tammy Duckworth, an Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq and is now director of veterans affairs in Illinois. Appointing Duckworth would send a message beyond the veterans community. She lost a congressional race last November, running as a Democrat.
As with Max Cleland, a Vietnam War amputee who was secretary under Jimmy Carter, choosing Duckworth would let vets know that "one of their own" was tasked to "help care for them," Rieckhoff said. "Max Cleland is an inspiration to generations of veterans regardless of your political affiliations. Tammy is cut from the same cloth."
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From the Denver Post editorial board:
Jim Nicholson's resignation as Secretary of the Veterans Administration gives President Bush a golden opportunity to harness the growing bipartisan determination to improve the care given to America's veterans.
With less than 18 months to go before he leaves office, the president should resist the urge to appoint a place-holder to head the VA, which, with 235,000 employees, is the federal government's second-largest agency. Instead, Bush should replace Nicholson with someone like Jesse Brown, the disabled Vietnam veteran who revitalized the VA during the Clinton administration, spurring it to provide more veterans greater access to a broader range of health care services. ...
A presidential commission chaired by former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Donna Shalala, who was Health and Human Services Secretary under Clinton, is now pressing for sweeping reforms in the VA's network. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed those efforts Wednesday while criticizing shortcomings at the agency, including a backlog of more than 400,000 veterans-benefit claims waiting to be processed by the VA.
The momentum is thus building for far-reaching reforms to aid American veterans. We urge President Bush to seize the moment and appoint a dynamic new leader at the VA.
From the East Valley Tribune [Phoenix, AZ]:
Former Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, is being recommended by members of Arizona’s congressional delegation to become the new secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has recommended to the White House that Romley be appointed to replace Jim Nicholson, who announced his resignation as secretary of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday, Kyl spokesman Ryan Patmintra said Thursday. Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., also sent a letter to President Bush recommending Romley for the job.
Romley, a Republican who had already taken a job to be a personal adviser to Nicholson, said Wednesday he has not been contacted by the White House. “If I was asked to assume that position, I would be honored,” Romley said. “There’s not a greater honor than to serve the veterans of this country.”
Will add to this as more names are tossed up.