Today on CBS’s Face the Nation, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) called on the Bush administration to remove Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley from his post as Army surgeon general, and to fire Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, whose appointment “looks like a Brownie situation.”
“This is a political appointment,” McCaskill said of Nicholson. “This is somebody who has spent a whole lot of the last few years defending everything about the White House.” CBS host Bob Schieffer piled on, saying “in at least two television appearances that I have seen him…he seemed unfamiliar with the services that were being offered by his own agency.” Watch it:
Nicholson is the Michael Brown of veterans affairs. His primary qualification for the job was serving as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1997 to 2000, “raising close to $380 million for the 2000 cycle.” During Bush’s first term, Nicholson was rewarded with the plush ambassadorship to the Vatican; after being selected to run the VA, he promptly ranked #4 in The New Republic’s list of “the 15 biggest Bush administration hacks.”
In the wake of the Walter Reed revelations, President Bush appointed Nicholson to lead a special panel to “cut through red tape” affecting veterans. But veterans advocates say it was Nicholson’s “inept management of the VA [that] has lead to the red tape.” ABC News revealed last week that Nicholson shelved a program that could have avoided many of the bureaucratic delays plaguing injured vets because of its cost — less than $1 million.
MCCASKILL: Now, come on. We can do better than that. And we need more social workers. They need more caseworkers. They need more legal advisers. And they need a change in the culture of command. General Kiley needs to be removed from his duty as surgeon general of the Army because it’s that culture of command.
And by the way, General Kiley — I documented in the Armed Services hearing this week, he knew of these problems. He’s known of them for several years. And he was in the position to do something about it, and he needs to change. He needs to go. We need a new commander over the medical command of the U.S. Army, and a new culture of command.
SCHIEFFER: Now, one of the things we found out over the past couple of weeks is that these problems go beyond Walter Reed. They go to some of the other military hospitals and they also extend into the Veterans Administration, where we’ve seen the secretary of the Veterans Administration in at least two television appearances that I have seen him where he seemed unfamiliar with the services that were being offered by his own agency. How serious is the problem there?
MCCASKILL: Well, the Walter Reed syndrome spreads to other military hospitals around our country and also into the V.A. And, frankly, the V.A. is really a problem. The president has cut the budget in the Veterans Administration for the past five years.
In the budget that he just submitted to Congress, he went in the veterans’ pockets for another $5 billion for the health care they were promised for free. And with all due respect to the head of the Veterans Administration, this is a man that was chairman of the Republican National Committee. The appearance isn’t right. You know, this looks like a Brownie situation. Let’s put somebody…
SCHIEFFER: Brownie as in FEMA.
MCCASKILL: As in FEMA. You know, this is a political appointment. This is somebody who has spent a whole lot of the last few years defending everything about the White House. Really, that’s not the right person to be leading the agency that’s supposed to protect our veterans.
And I really think it’s time we put somebody in charge of the Veterans Administration whose first priority are the veterans and not the politics surrounding the agency.