Veterans Affairs Sec. Robert McDonald falsely told a homeless veteran last month that he had served in special forces during his five-year stint in the Army.
McDonald, appointed to head the scandal-ridden VA last year, served as a captain in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division between 1975 and 1980. And though he completed Army Ranger training, the former Procter & Gamble CEO was never a member of a special forces.
As he was out canvassing the area for homeless vets, McDonald came across a man who said he had been in the military and that he had been in special forces.
“Special forces? What years? I was in special forces!” McDonald exclaimed.
Except that wasn’t true, as McDonald admitted to the Huffington Post.
“I have no excuse,” McDonald told the website after being confronted with the false claim. “I was not in special forces.”
He said he “wanted to clear up the confusion I probably created – I did create,” explaining, “I reacted spontaneously and I reacted wrongly, [with] no intent in any way to describe my record any different than it is.”
Several retired military officers informed the Huffington Post about McDonald’s claim, spurred by the recent scandal involving NBC anchor Brian William and his claims to have been in a helicopter downed by an RPG during the Iraq War.
“I thought, ‘What a boneheaded statement – is this what we want from our senior government officials?’” retired Army Col. Gary Bloomberg, a former special forces commander, told the Post after seeing video of McDonald’s comments.
Bloomberg circulated the video among other retired special forces members.
“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,” Bloomberg said.
The White House told the Post that it accepted McDonald’s explanation for the false statement.
“Secretary McDonald has apologized for the misstatement and noted that he never intended to misrepresent his military service,” the White House said. “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.”
McDonald was criticized last week for inaccurate statements he made in an entirely different matter.
“Nine hundred people have been fired since I became secretary,” McDonald told NBC “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd on Feb. 15. “We’ve got 60 people that we fired who have manipulated wait times.”
McDonald aimed to shine a light on the moves he’s made to clean up the beleaguered agency. But as Washington Post’s fact checker noted, McDonald’s claim was false. Only eight employees have been removed for manipulating wait times. And a large number of the 900 fired employees were recent hires, some of whom may not have been hired after McDonald took the post.