WASHINGTON — Togo West Jr., who served as both Army secretary and Veterans Affairs secretary under former President Bill Clinton, died suddenly last week at the age of 75.
West was the second African American to serve in both jobs. He was a longtime fixture in Washington, D.C. defense and veterans circles, holding a number of high-ranking permanent appointments and temporary posts on investigative commissions.
West’s daughter told The Washington Post that he died of a heart attack during a cruise in the Caribbean. He was a North Carolina native who graduated from Howard University Law School before being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army.
He served in a variety of posts in former President Jimmy Carter’s administration and returned to government in 1993 when Clinton was elected. He was nominated to the top civilian Army post after his predecessor, acting Secretary John Shannon, was charged with shoplifting and forced to resign.
His tenure there included overseeing a controversial drawdown of Army end strength and investigations into sexual abuse of female recruits at a series of bases.
In 1998, West took over as VA secretary, remaining in the post until summer of 2000. At the time, Clinton praised West for his efforts to better aid veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure and Gulf War Syndrome, but his tenure was also marked by controversy over his personal travel expenses and conflict with the White House over VA funding levels.
West later served on special congressional commissions investigating mismanagement at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas.
More recently, he served on the National Advisory Council of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, offering advice on ways to better help military families and caregivers.
He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Gail Berry, and two daughters.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.