The head of Concerned Veterans for America — a key voice on the GOP presidential campaign trail — quietly resigned earlier this month, forcing a leadership reorganization for the group just weeks before the first primaries.
Pete Hegseth had been president and chief executive officer of CVA since July 2012, helping to quickly move the group quickly to become an prominent voice among congressional Republicans, although officials have long insisted their goal is to build a bipartisan consensus on Veterans Affairs reform.
Hegseth served as an Army National Guard major and deployed to both Iraq and Cuba during his 11-year career. He has also worked as a Fox News contributor and as an organizer on numerous conservative campaigns, making him a sometimes controversial figure on Capitol Hill.
Both Hegseth and CVA officials said his decision to step down was mutual, dismissing rumors of a rift between the former CEO and the group's financial backers. Hegseth said he'll be releasing a book in early May and pursuing advocacy work broader than just VA issues.
"Sometimes it just makes sense to make a transition," he said. "I'm grateful to have had this opportunity, and I'll still be fighting on these issues."
In a statement, CVA staff said the resignation will allow both sides to "focus on core priorities."
"CVA recognizes and appreciates the accomplishments of Pete as CEO," the statement said. "He provided strong leadership during the growth of CVA as an influential organization on many fronts. CVA thanks Pete for his many contributions and we wish him well in all future endeavors."
CVA officials have repeatedly declined to discuss funding sources and trustee information for the group, but numerous news reports have linked the group to the Koch brothers network of conservative activist organizations.
That link has sharpened Democratic attacks on from Democrats against the group, which has been harshly critical of the White House’s handling of problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In recent months, CVA officials have held a series of town halls to discuss their reform proposals, events which have sometimes periodically doubled as campaign events for Republican presidential hopefuls.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and business leader Carly Fiorina have all discussed their veterans and foreign policy plans at CVA forums in early primary states.
Group officials said leadership changes won't disrupt those plans. Chief Operating Officer Jae Pak will also assume the role as president of CVA. Peter Gaytan, a former executive director of the American Legion and executive vice president at Wounded Warrior Project, will take over as the group's communications director.
"We will continue to advance the CVA mission of advocating for policies that preserve the freedom and liberty that veterans and their families so proudly fought for and sacrificed to defend," the CVA statement said.
The group's "Defend Freedom" tour — a mix of free concerts and volunteer sign-up events — has dates scheduled in Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia in coming weeks.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for the Military Times newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.