He called his supporters.
He called his nemeses.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald took to his phone Tuesday, personally apologizing for falsely telling a homeless veteran that he served in the special forces. The issue is particularly sensitive for members of the special forces, the most elite units in the military.
McDonald said he “had no excuse,” and admitted he made an “inaccurate” statement. (McDonald’s military service of five years was spent almost entirely with the 82nd Airborne Division during the late 1970s.)
After receiving a morning phone call from McDonald, Homer S. Townsend Jr., executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said that “McDonald apologized for exaggerating what is his otherwise honorable service,” Townsend said, “and we maintain our support for him as he continues the effort to reduce veterans homelessness, strengthen the VA health-care system and ensure the timely receipt of veterans benefits.”
He added: “While we don’t condone lying about military service. … We’re losing sight of the most important aspect of this story — the VA secretary was directly engaging one of many homeless veterans in the west Los Angeles area, where this problem is most prevalent.”
Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that McDonald called him to say he was sorry.
He said his organization accepted his apology.
“IAVA is committed to helping him succeed in this extremely tough job,” Rieckhoff said. “We know Secretary McDonald is a man of exceptional commitment who served honorably and cares deeply about our veterans.”
McDonald also planned to meet with the American Legion in Washington today at 4:30.
McDonald also called Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who has been one of the most vocal critics of McDonald’s performance. The secretary thanked him for issuing a statement that had an understanding tone. Coffman told him that his statement doesn’t mean they are letting up the pressure on him to reform the troubled VA system.
“The secretary’s misstatement was an error, but it doesn’t dim the fact that he served honorably,” Coffman said. “Washington shouldn’t spend the next two weeks arguing about it. The secretary has a job to do – clean up the scandal-plagued VA. This latest controversy shouldn’t shift one iota of focus away from that long overdue task.”
The brouhaha comes in the wake of the controversy around NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. He was suspended without pay after telling a false story about being under combat fire in Iraq.