President Obama on Friday appointed Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson to serve as acting head of the agency, following the resignation of VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, who stepped down amid growing calls for his resignation over systemic scheduling problems at VA hospitals.
Gibson’s name has emerged in conversations about possible nominees to replace the outgoing VA chief on a permanent basis. He is a 1975 U.S. Military Academy graduate and former infantry officer who came to VA after leading the United Services Organizations, which supports troops and their families. He also spent more than 20 years in the banking industry, where he served as vice chairman and chief financial officer for AmSouth Bancorporation before retiring from the firm in 2004.
Lawmakers on Friday talked about the qualities they expect in Obama’s next nominee for VA secretary.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said the department needs a leader who will “take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold step to replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability.”
Similarly, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) said the next VA chief must “transform the culture of the VA, establish accountability and punish those responsible for the reprehensible manipulation of wait times.”
The White House offered no clues Friday about Obama’s likely nominee, but several notable leaders fit the bill.
Sloan Gibson: He is a third-generation veteran whose father served as a B-17 tail-gunner during World War II and grandfather fought as an Army infantryman during World War I.
During Gibson’s time with the USO, net fundraising for the group grew by 90 percent, according to his VA biography. Obama awarded him with the 2011 National Medal of Arts for “lifting the spirits of service members and their families through the arts.”
“He’s a great leader who gets what’s going on,” said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America official Tom Tarantino. “He’s always been an amazing and dynamic leader.”
Lawmakers have praised him as well. “He certainly has a very strong background,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said. “He has the commitment to veterans — he wouldn’t have been the head of USO if he wasn’t.”
Peter W. Chiarelli: The retired four-star general served as Army vice chief of staff from August 2008 to January 2012. He rose through the ranks after completing ROTC training at Seattle University, eventually commanding at every level, from platoon to corps.
Chiarelli now serves as the chief executive of One Mind, which promotes awareness and research of brain injuries and mental illness. He led the Defense Department’s efforts to address post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and suicide.
Stanley A. McChrystal: The retired four-star general helped craft the Afghanistan war strategy as commander of U.S. forces in that country. Obama dismissed him from his job after a Rolling Stone article featured his disparaging remarks about some of the president’s senior civilian advisers, including Vice President Biden.
The White House appears to have made up with McChrystal, having quickly invited him after the dismissal to lead the Joining Forces Initiative, which supports military families.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.): Reed knows Congress and the military, having served in both. He is a former Army ranger and West Point alumnus, making him one of only eight U.S. senators in history to graduate from the academy, according to his Web site.
Reed, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, voted against giving President George W. Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq, saying the plan was a diversion from the war on terrorism. It is unclear whether Obama is willing to put Reed’s Senate seat in jeopardy during what is expected to be a tough election year for Democrats.
Mike Mullen: A retired Navy admiral who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the Bush and Obama administrations, Mullen turned to the private sector in 2013, joining the boards of General Motors and Sprint Nextel Corp.
Patrick Murphy: Patrick Murphy is a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania and the first Iraq war veteran to serve in the House, but he lost his seat after two terms during the 2010 tea party wave. He has a regular series on MSNBC called “Taking the Hill,” which focuses on veterans issues.
Murphy said Friday that Shinseki’s replacement should be someone who “will inspire confidence in veterans, who walked in their ranks . . . has an intimate understanding of veteran policy, and has the leadership ability.” He declined to say whether he fits that description.
Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.