Rumors that Veterans Administration chief Harry N. Walters will step down soon continue to sweep the agency.
Walters has declined to comment on his future, saying he will do whatever the president asks.
Those close to the administrator say he is growing restless and would like a top Army post at the Pentagon. If that is impossible, some speculate, Walters will leave the government next year.
Walters was relatively unknown when Reagan tapped him in late 1982 to run the agency. A West Point graduate, Walters served a minimum stint in the Army before moving into the paper-manufacturing business. Walters' West Point connections led Reagan to appoint him director of manpower and reserve affairs for the Army, from which he moved to the VA.
Walters has received high marks from veterans' groups and Congress, which consider him one of the best recent VA administrators. He has improved agency morale, mended fences with veterans' groups, begun several innovative programs and protected the VA's budget.
He has developed a reputation as an honest, aggressive and well-liked veterans' advocate. BRING YOUR FRIENDS ALONG . . .
Walters has not escaped criticism, however. The most frequent complaint is that he has hired a number of his friends. His top staff includes several former Pentagon officials, and some Army pals work as consultants.
Recently, Walters hired Bernard A. (Barney) Gill, a retired Army officer as his "special assistant for sports and fitness" and named James R. Currieo, former commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, as a $252-per-day consultant.
Walters' supporters defend the choices by saying he has put fewer friends on the payroll than his recent predecessors. VA'S TURN NOW . . .
A recent newspaper article about attorneys who are seeking $40 million in legal fees from the $180 million settlement in the Agent Orange class-action lawsuit has sparked amusement among some top VA employes.
For years, attorneys who have represented Vietnam veterans in such cases have rapped the VA for its reluctance to compensate veterans suffering from health disorders that may have been caused by exposure to the herbicide.
While much of the criticism may have been deserved, the VA has taken several steps recently to improve relations with Vietnam veterans and get to the bottom of the Agent Orange puzzle. Yet, attacks by some veterans' attorneys persist.
Recently, two Newsday reporters examined the claims being filed by more than 100 attorneys in the Agent Orange lawsuit.
The reporters found claims from attorneys for such expenses as $207 restaurant lunches, cigarettes, movies, six pairs of underwear from Saks Fifth Avenue and cheese snacks.
One document showed that five of the nine law firms that were part of the committee that signed the out-of-court agreement with chemical companies expected a three-fold return on the $1.03 million that they had "invested" in the case.
Judge Jack B. Weinstein, who is overseeing the settlement, said the document raised a "serious concern" because it appeared attorneys had "bought stock in a lawsuit" without doing any work.
Only one lawyer asked the court not to reimburse him.
Houston attorney Russ Christensen said he would like to set an example by waiving any claim to the 400 hours that he worked and his $1,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
"So much for the idea that these attorneys were the good guys on white horses rushing to save veterans from the money-grubbing VA," said a VA official who circulated the clipping.
Weinstein has said it will take him several months to review the claims, but he warned attorneys not to expect huge fees.