While attention is focused on international affairs, interest rates and the tribulations of Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan, a nearly unnoticed crisis is unfolding at the Veterans Administration.
Though it has yet to come before the president, Vietnam veterans are organizing to demand the ouster of VA Administrator Robert P. Nimmo, who is described in an editorial today in the usually restrained Stars and Stripes as "an abomination."
Nimmo's proclivity for self-indulgence was documented last week by the VA's inspector general, Frank Sato, whose report made it necessary for Nimmo to reimburse the government $6,441 for the chauffeur who drove him to work.
Less publicized but more significant is Nimmo's constant foot-dragging on the VA's program for dealing with Agent Orange, a defoliant containing potent dioxins that is suspected of causing a wide range of maladies in Vietnam veterans.
VA insiders say that Nimmo, who once publicly compared the consequences of Agent Orange to teen-age acne, has used a variety of bureaucratic devices to delay approval of the $4.9 million Agent Orange budget for fiscal 1982. Veterans groups hope that the political unpopularity of further delay in an election year will force Nimmo to give the budget his approval at a meeting this week.
Nimmo also is blamed for semi-starving a counseling program for Vietnam vets at 136 storefront locations throughout the country. Again, the assault has come by bureaucratic means, chiefly through the imposition of rigid ceilings on travel. The practical effect has been to limit psychiatrists, psychologists and training specialists from traveling to the far-flung counseling centers. "He's really getting to the lifeline of the program," said one administration official.
Nimmo, a World War II veteran, former California legislator and dedicated golfer, regards many of the programs specially directed toward the Vietnam vets as "preferential coddling" not provided for the survivors of other wars.
He is particularly scornful of the claim that some Vietnam veterans suffer from what doctors have called "post-traumatic stress syndrome," which affects their attitudes and performance in civilian life.
Nimmo's conduct seems particularly ironic to Vietnam veterans who remember that President Reagan--in his celebrated Aug. 18, 1980, speech describing the Vietnam war as "a noble cause"--promised to honor and respect the claims of Vietnam and charged that "this present anti-veteran Carter administration has stacked the deck against them through the vast power of the White House."
Vietnam vets would now like to see Reagan use some of his own White House power to get rid of Robert Nimmo.
On the way out, of his own volition, is Norman Ture, the treasury undersecretary for economic affairs who has been the most outspoken supply-sider within the Reagan administration. Ture told White House officials he was returning to the private sector because he needs to make more money.
Reagan's economic recovery program may still be more fancy than fact, but in-house polls taken for the president show that Reagan has rebounded slightly after a long slide. The boost comes less, however, from "Reagan economics" than from gains recorded by the president on foreign policy issues, particularly his nuclear arms initiative, and a generally favorably impression he made on his recently completed European trip.
The president's belief that the Soviet Union is a tattered paper bear and his decision to extend economic pressure in an attempt to force concessions from the Russians came as a surprise to some Republicans--but not to Richard Nixon.
Nixon, who is briefed every 60 days by national security adviser William P. Clark or his deputy, Thomas Reed, repeatedly has advocated the playing of the U.S. economic card in his recommendations to the Reagan administration. On April 21, at about the same time this Reagan strategy was emerging, Nixon told an Orange County GOP fund-raiser at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim: "The Soviet Union needs a deal and we should give them one--but for a price."
After discussing the economic assets of the West and the liabilities of the Soviet economy in much the terms Reagan has used in subsequent speeches, the former president said: "It won't be easy. Simply to have a program which would lead to a balance of nuclear terror is not enough. We must try to add a new dimension of the use of the free world's economic power as both a carrot and a stick to affect Soviet conquest."
Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford also receive regular briefings from Clark and express their views to him about world issues. Carter's comments on Middle East issues have impressed his briefers, as have the recommendations of former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger, who talked to Clark a week ago Sunday during the height of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.