Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on Tuesday afternoon said he has no excuse for the false statement he gave on camera in January when he told a homeless veteran in Los Angeles that he served in the elite special forces of the U.S. Army. His mea culpa was the second this month.
“I made a misstatement, I apologize for that. I have no excuse for that,” he told a group of reporters. “What I said was not on my mind at the time. I was trying to connect with him.”
McDonald had made the claim while participating in an annual overnight count of homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area. Participants engaged with the individuals to learn about their backgrounds and experiences in an event televised by CBS News on Jan. 30. But on Monday, The Huffington Post reported that McDonald’s five-year military service was spent almost entirely with the 82nd Airborne Division. He didn’t serve as part of any U.S. commando force.
McDonald told reporters on Tuesday that his main goal is trying to connect with veterans, and tried to justify his previous false remark accordingly. He referenced a press conference from last year when he provided his cell phone number to the media to disperse so U.S. service members could call him.
Prior to his press appearance, he sent a statement on Monday to the Military Times: ”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. I have great respect for those who have served our nation in special forces.”
Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said McDonald’s apology was “appropriate,” but added, “sometimes I just don’t understand why people would want to do that.”
“It was wrong of him to claim that as part of his resume, but I’m much more concerned about his performance as secretary of veterans affairs,” McCain said.
Earlier on Tuesday, McDonald contacted the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and apologized. The group’s press secretary, Gretchen Andersen, said in a statement that members accept his apology. Last July, the Senate confirmed McDonald as the replacement for former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned amid claims made against the Department of Veterans Affairs. Allegations arose that there were “secret waiting lists” for veterans at the VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, and that at least 40 veterans had died while waiting for primary care appointments. Dozens more facilities became part of a larger review nationwide.
McDonald, a former Procter & Gamble CEO, also issued a different apology earlier this month after his appearance on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” He said that 60 people were fired from the VA department for their role in manipulating the wait time from the scandal last year. But the VA has proposed disciplinary action for 75 people, but only eight of those individuals were fired.