Veterans groups compare exiting VA chief's tenure to Michael Brown at FEMA
The resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson marks the end of a tenure that characterized mismanagement within the department and endangered the health of millions of veterans, veterans groups and a presidential candidate said Tuesday.
"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."
Democratic candidate Barack Obama also weighed in on Nicholson's departure.
"It is clear that Secrertary Nicholson is leaving the VA worse off than he found it," the Illinois senator said in a statement released to reporters. "He 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."
Veterans groups representing troops who have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan were sharply critical of Nicholson's tenure overseeing the Veterans Administration.
"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," Rickhoff said in a statement released to reporters.
Nicholson's time atop the VA was marked by scandals involving treatment of injured veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the handling of sensitive information about veterans stored on VA computers, the Associated Press reports.
After the Washington Post revealed sub-standard conditions at Walter Reed, Nicholson defended the administration's handling of veterans issues, even as he allowed there was room for improvement. Critics said the poor care was yet another example of poor planning on behalf of the Bush administration before it invaded Iraq.
"As America fights war on two major fronts overseas, the President must nominate a VA Secretary who will do what Secretary Nelson failed to achieve -- care for our current veterans and honor our commitment to our service members by providing them with the benefits and care they deserve when they return home," Obama said Tuesday.
A Vietnam Veteran and retired Army Reserve colonel, Nicholson plans to vacate his office by Oct. 1.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the largest group representing veterans who served abroad, has not weighed in on Nicholson's resignation. A spokesman for the group told RAW STORY the VFW is going to wait at least a day before deciding whether to comment on his departure.