Veterans

VA Secretary Robert McDonald: 'I will do better'

For the second time in 24 hours, Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald issued a mea culpa for telling a homeless veteran in Los Angeles last month he had been in Special Forces when he had not.

Addressing reporters in front of VA headquarters building on Tuesday, McDonald said he had no intention of stepping down for the mistake, saying he made the error in an effort to connect with the veteran, not to embellish his record.

"In my 61 years, integrity has been the foundation of my character. ... It is a part of who I am and I will do better to not make a mistake like I made in L.A. again," McDonald said.

During an overnight count of homeless veterans in Los Angeles last month, McDonald spoke with a veteran who said he had been in Army Special Forces, telling him he'd also been in Special Forces.

McDonald graduated from West Point in 1975 and spent five years in the Army, having graduated jump school and Army Ranger training and earning his Ranger tab. He was assigned primarily to the 82nd Airborne Division and left service in 1980 at the rank of captain.

But he never served in a special operations unit.

After the conversation was reported late Monday by the Huffington Post, McDonald issued an apology.

On Tuesday, he again said he was sorry and wanted to apologize to anyone "who may have been hurt by my misstatements."

The apology is the second major correction for McDonald in the last week and the third verbal controversy involving the secretary in a month.

In a Feb. 15 appearance on "Meet the Press," he claimed that 60 department workers had been fired in recent months for problems related to the VA's wait time scandal, but later backtracked to say only eight had lost their jobs

During a hearing Feb. 11, McDonald sparred with Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., over the construction of a VA medical facility in his state.

At one point, the visibly frustrated secretary said Coffman shouldered more blame for VA construction problems in his state and ended their exchange with: "I've run a large company, sir. What have you done?"

Coffman has served in Iraq and is an Army and Marine Corps veteran.

The B-25 Mitchell
The B-25 Mitchell "Panchito" flys over 16th Street in Ocean City during the Ocean City Air Show on Saturday, June 18.

McDonald has made integrity and transparency one of the pillars of his efforts to overhaul VA. When asked whether his recent statements had damaged that effort, he pledged to continue to work toward restoring trust in the department, which has faced troubles in the last several years over delayed claims, health care access and accountability.

"The common ground I have is my veteran experience. ... Trust is something I build with veterans one veteran at a time," McDonald said.

"I want to serve veterans. I'm here to try to prove ... to make VA work," McDonald said.

Staff writer Leo Shane contributed to this report.

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