Robert McDonald, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, misrepresented his military record in a recent TV appearance, falsely stating that he was in an elite special operations division.
McDonald, a West Point graduate who served with the 82nd Airborne Division during the late 1970s, has issued an apology for the misstatement.
The story was first reported by the Huffington Post’s David Wood. There was no suggestion in Wood’s story of any pattern of misstatements by McDonald. The comment in question came while McDonald was being filmed by a CBS News crew as he toured Los Angeles during a count of homeless veterans, one of whom told McDonald he had served in special ops.
McDonald replied: “Special Forces? What years? I was in Special Forces.” The segment aired Jan. 30.
In a statement provided by VA, McDonald said: “While I was in Los Angeles, engaging a homeless individual to determine his veteran status, I asked the man where he had served in the military. He responded that he had served in special forces. I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces. That was inaccurate and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement.”
“We take him at his word and expect that this will not impact the important work he’s doing to promote the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans,” said a statement from the White House, according to the Associated Press.
The special forces claim, which came in the middle of the controversy over the honesty of NBC News anchor Brian Williams, was noticed by some retired military officers.
McDonald told Wood: “I have no excuse. I was not in Special Forces.”
Special operations forces, drawn from all branches of the military, include the fabled Green Berets, Army Rangers, Delta Force and Navy SEALs. “Special operators are a close-knit community deeply hostile to outsiders who try to claim the coveted mantle of special operations,” wrote Wood, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his reporting on the “physical and emotional challenges facing American soldiers severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan during a decade of war.”
Wood reported that McDonald, the former chief executive of Procter and Gamble who was brought in to shape up the embattled VA, completed Army Ranger training but “never served in a Ranger battalion or any other special operations unit.”
Wood quoted retired Army Col. Gary Bloomberg, a former Special Forces commander, calling McDonald’s claim “a boneheaded statement.” But Bloomberg said he and other former special ops officers did not consider it as egregious as some other misrepresentations.
“No one got really crazy about the whole thing, compared to some of what we’ve seen,” he told the Huffington Post. “It’s a lot different from guys running around faking their special forces credentials. … I can see [other former special forces soldiers] going, ‘Hey, check out this boneheaded remark,’ but I don’t see the gravitas that I would with a guy wearing medals he didn’t earn.’”
[This post has been updated.]