Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary, Jim Nicholson, has resigned. In a lengthy press release, the his department praises Nicholson for his “leadership” in “transform[ing] the VA health care system to meet the unique medical requirements of the returning combatants from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
In reality, however, Nicholson’s tenure put the health care of both current and future veterans at risk. Some highlights:
– In February 2005, Nicholson kicked off his tenure by calling praising a VA budget proposal that cut “health care staffing, reduced funding for nursing home care and [included] staffing cuts for the Board of Veterans Appeals.” He said it demonstrated of the Bush administration’s “ongoing commitment to provide the very best health care and benefits to those veterans who count on VA the most.” [LINK]
– In May of 2006, Nicholson waited two weeks to notify the Justice Department and FBI of the “largest loss of personal data in U.S. government history.” He then waited another full week before notifying the 26.5 million affected veterans of the theft. [LINK]
– In April of 2006, Nicholson rejected four separate bills “pending before Congress to reduce the 600,000-case backlog of veterans’ benefits claims.” [LINK]
– In May of 2007, the AP revealed that Nicholson awarded “$3.8 million in bonuses to top executives in fiscal 2006” — many as much as $33,000 — despite the department suffering from a $1.3 billion shortfall. [LINK, LINK]
Nicholson — whose previous posts include chairman of the Republican National Committee and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican — was uniquely unprepared to deal with the challenges of caring for the health our nation’s veterans.
In March 2007, for example, he cynically defended what he called “’anecdotal’ exceptions” of veterans falling through the cracks. “When you are treating so many people there is always going to be a linen towel left somewhere,” he said.
As Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said today, “The next VA Secretary must have a record of being a strong and independent voice for veterans — not someone being rewarded for political loyalty.”