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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

President Nominates New VA Chief: Former Army Surg Gen James Peake

President Bush nominated retired Army General James Peake to the position of Veterans Administration Secretary today. Early reaction...

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Bush's announcement:

BUSH: Caring for our military veterans is a solemn responsibility of the federal government. It is our enduring pledge to every man and woman who puts on our nation's uniform. And it is the daily work of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I am pleased to announce my nomination of an Army doctor and combat veteran who will be a strong new leader for this department: Lieutenant General James Peake. ...

Dr. Peake grew up in a home where service to country was a way of life. His father started out as an enlisted man in the Army, and became an officer who spent most of his 30-year career in the Medical Service Corps. Dr. Peake's mom was an Army nurse. His brother was a naval aviator. And as a young man of 18, he set upon his own lifetime of service when he arrived at the United States Military Academy.

After graduating from West Point in 1966, Second Lieutenant James Peake was sent to Vietnam with the 101st Airborne. There he served as a platoon leader, he led men in combat, and earned several medals for his courage _including the Silver Star. One of those who knows him best describes his leadership this way: End of a chow-line officer _everyone else first.

In Vietnam, he also earned two Purple Hearts. While in the hospital recovering from his second wound, he learned that he had been accepted to medical school. And after completing his medical studies at Cornell University, he devoted his career as an Army doctor to improving care for our wounded servicemen and women. Long before the global war on terror began, Dr. Peake was changing the way we deliver medical care to our troops. As a result of his reforms, many who once might have died on the battlefield _now they come home to be productive and having fulfilling lives.

As a medical officer and combat vet who was wounded in action, Dr. Peake understands the view from both sides of the hospital bed _the doctor's, and the patient's. He brought that understanding to many jobs. These jobs include command surgeon in the Army hospitals, commanding general of the largest medical training facility in the world, and Army Surgeon General _where he commanded more than 50,000 medical personnel, oversaw 16 hospitals across the world, and managed an operating budget of nearly $5 billion.

Since leaving the Army, he has served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Project Hope. There he helped one Navy hospital ship respond to the victims of the Asian tsunami and another that was sent to care for those hit by Hurricane Katrina. Most recently, he has served as Chief Medical Director and Chief Operating Officer with QTC Management, which provides military veterans with timely medical examinations, as well as electronic medical record services.

When confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Peake will bring his unique set of skills and experiences to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He will be the first physician and the first general to serve as Secretary. He will apply his decades of expertise in combat medicine and health care management to improve the veterans' health system. He will insist on the highest level of care for every American veteran.

[UPDATE Oct 31, 2007]: Bush's announcement.


BUSH: One of Dr. Peake's first tasks as Secretary will be to continue to implement the recommendations of the Dole-Shalala Commission on Wounded Warriors. And Senator, thank you for joining us. Some of their recommendations are the responsibility of the executive branch, and Dr. Peake will be a leader in carrying them out. Others require the approval of United States Congress, and that's why this month I sent a bill to Capitol Hill that will make those recommendations the law of the land.

As Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Doctor Peake will be a powerful advocate for the prompt enactment and implementation of this vital legislation. And he will work tirelessly to eliminate backlogs and ensure that our veterans receive the benefits they need to lead lives of dignity and purpose. ...

I want to thank Acting Secretary Gordon Mansfield for leading the department these last few weeks. He's done a fine job. He's earned the respect of all those who've worked under him. He's earned the gratitude of our nation's vets.

I appreciate Dr. Peake's willingness to step forward at this important time for the department. He' a man who' been tested in battle; he has proved himself as a soldier, as a physician, as a leader and as a good family man. He will be a superb Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the United States Senate should promptly confirm him.

Doctor, I appreciate you stepping up again. On behalf of the United States of America, congratulations.

PEAKE: Mr. President, Secretary Mansfield, Secretary Principi, Senator Dole, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for being here. And sir, thank you for this opportunity to come back in service. Fundamentally, I'm a soldier. I've been taking care of soldiers essentially all of my adult life. And to have that chance again, especially at this time _at a time when the American people and you, Mr. President, have so clearly committed to the well-being of those who have served — well, it's a high honor indeed.

I do understand that though it's an honor, this is not an honorary position, and there's a lot of work to be done as we move forward on implementing the Dole-Shalala commission recommendations. The disability system is largely a 1945 product _1945 processes around a 1945 family unit. About everybody that has studied it recently said it is time to do some revisions.

I am really proud of the military medics who have done such remarkable things, in terms of bringing wounded soldiers back home _soldiers that in other conflicts would never have made it off the battlefield. I think each of these men and women deserves the right to lead as full and productive a life as is possible. This great VA system of ours reaches across the nation into every community and touches veterans and their families in so many ways, committed to the principle that I just talked about.

Well, I'm committed to that principle as well, and that's why I'm here. I know personally many of those who lead in the VA. It is a great team. If confirmed, I look forward to working with them. I look forward to working with Congress. I look forward to working with the veterans' service organizations, and particularly with the Department of Defense as we move forward to do the right thing _not just for the short-term, but for the longer-term _to set the future so that we can continue to meet our commitment to those who deserve our care.

Janice, thank you so much for allowing me to come on this journey, and coming with me. Mr. President, thank you so much for the confidence and the opportunity, and I'll see you on the high ground.

BUSH: Thank you all.


Nomination details and early response

From the LA Times:

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said of Peake: "He has experience on both sides of the hospital bed, both as a patient for sustaining wounds ... in Vietnam, and also as a doctor for over four decades."

She said his experience in the Pentagon would help Veterans Affairs meet the recommendations of the Dole-Shalala task force to better integrate the work of the two agencies as it applies to wounded troops.

From The Hill:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he looks forward to the confirmation process.

“The agency needs strong, stable leadership to reverse a series of major missteps by the Bush administration,” Reid said. “From the enormous task of streamlining and improving the military and veterans’ disability systems, to implementing a joint electronic medical record, to caring for the large number of returning veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, we hope Gen. Peake will demonstrate to Congress that he can provide the VA with the strong leadership to make the monumental changes that our veterans deserve.”

From FCW:

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle praised Peake’s selection. His nomination is the first step in bringing strong leadership to VA, said Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

“It is my hope that Dr. Peake’s role as the senior physician in the Army, his experience as a highly decorated and wounded veteran, and his recent work with the medical, disability and health communities in the private sector will equip him to address the unresolved problems plaguing the VA,” Filner said.

Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), ranking member of the committee, called Peake an outstanding candidate to modernize VA and establish a seamless transition process.

“Peake possesses a wealth of knowledge and experience required to institute these necessary changes,” Buyer said.

From the Washington Post:

Former senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), who co-chaired the commission to improve health care for wounded troops, said Peake seems to be a good choice.

"He's been on both sides," Dole said. "He was a patient after he was wounded in Vietnam, and he spent much of his career as a caregiver." ...

"We'd feel more comfortable having somebody with much more intimate knowledge of the VA than someone from outside," said David W. Gorman, executive director of Disabled American Veterans. "He's a gentleman, a professional, and he has dedicated his professional career to caring for active-duty military. But there is a line drawn between them and veterans, and there needs to be an understanding of that difference."

From CNN:

The Department of Veterans Affairs had a budget of more than $69 billion for fiscal year 2005 and employs about 230,000 people. Peake retired from his last post -- as Army surgeon general -- in September 2004.

The nomination elicited concern from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and a critic of the Bush administration's handling of veterans issues.

"Given Dr. Peake's past posts running the Army health care system, he will have serious and significant questions to answer about failed preparations for our returning wounded warriors," Murray said in a statement. "For months we've been hearing horror stories from Walter Reed and other military care centers, and I will want to know what role, if any, Dr. Peake played in the failures of the system."

But Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, also a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, disagreed that Peake's position as Army surgeon general would weigh against his approval.

"We should view that as experience and not as a take-away," he said. "What you need in that position is someone with a very broad base because of the incredible spread of service they provide through the VA, so I don't see that as a disqualification."

Veterans groups had complained that Bush's failure to name a replacement for [former VA Secretary James] Nicholson quickly was a sign his administration does not place a high priority on veterans issues. ...The veterans agency was also criticized after the revelation in 2006 that a laptop computer containing data on 26.5 million veterans had been stolen. The laptop was later recovered.

At the White House ceremony where his selection was announced, Peake acknowledged continued flaws with some of the services provided to veterans and pledged to overhaul them.

"The disability system is largely a 1945 product, 1945 processes, around a 1945 family unit. About everybody that has studied it recently said it is time to do some revisions," Peake said.

Peake was nominated by President Bill Clinton as Army surgeon general and served in that role from 2000-2004. After leaving that post, he worked for Project Hope, a nonprofit international health organization.

Most recently, Peake was chief medical director for QTC Management Inc., a private firm that provides medical exams and electronic medical records services for veterans ...

Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat who is running for president, said he hoped Peake would bring a "new era of leadership" to the veterans agency. But Obama said budget shortfalls, inadequate care and other problems had marked the Bush administration's oversight of the agency.

From the San Antonio Express-News:

“Dr. Peake's first-hand experience as a former surgeon general of the Army and commander of U.S. Army Medical Command based at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio will be invaluable at the VA,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

Peake's nomination comes just months after the Department of Veterans Affairs was rocked by allegations of shoddy medical care for veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Politicians have been flooded with complaints from veterans about delays in providing health care at facilities across the country.

Hutchison said she would discuss with Peake the “urgent health care needs of Texas veterans.”

From KTVK-Phoenix:

Former Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley had been recommended to head the Department of Veterans Affairs by members of Arizona's congressional delegation. Romley is a decorated Marine Corps veteran who lost portions of both legs in a mine explosion in 1969. He says he's disappointed that he wasn't nominated, but says he will be supportive of Peake and wishes him the very best.

From VA press release:

Statement by Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon H. Mansfield On the Nomination of Retired Lt. Gen. James Peake to be VA Secretary: "The President has nominated a decorated combat veteran and accomplished surgeon to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. We await his confirmation in the Senate and stand ready to work with Dr. Jim Peake to serve our nation's veterans with the finest health care services and benefits."

Speaker Pelosi press release:

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi issued the following statement today after President Bush nominated retired Army Lieutenant General James B. Peake to be the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs:

"The Bush Administration is overdue in appointing someone to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs who will ensure that all veterans receive the quality, timely health care they deserve - particularly our brave men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This is a time for independent, forceful leadership at the VA that is accountable to America's veterans and committed to the highest quality VA care.

"I am hopeful that Dr. James Peake is the right man to the lead the VA and will work with Congress to persuade President Bush to sign our legislation providing the largest increase for veterans' health care in history."

DNC press release:

DNC Chairman Howard Dean: "If confirmed, Peake will take over a highly criticized Bush Veterans Affairs Department which has failed to provide promised services, properly care for our wounded veterans at medical centers like Walter Reed, and left the personal financial information of America's 26.5 million veterans vulnerable.

Democrats have kept their promise to make improving health care and benefits for veterans a top priority, passing the largest increase in veterans' health care funding in our nation's history.

"Lt. General Peake has a tremendous responsibility ahead of him if he's confirmed. The Bush Administration has failed America's veterans, asking them to risk their lives for a disastrous Iraq policy and then neglecting them after their brave service. This must change. Democrats will continue to stand up to President Bush, fighting to fully fund veterans' health care services and to fix the VA. Lt. General Peake must stand with America's veterans and military families, not the partisan politics of the Bush Administration. We owe our troops and veterans better."

Also, an early editorial in the Wheeling [WV] News Register.

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