In an interesting twist, President-elect Trump’s transition team, flummoxed by recent refusals of top-dog choices for VA Secretary, have decided to dig down deeper in the barrel for ‘real’ experience. Beginning tomorrow, Trump’s transition team will begin interviews with several notable former VA Secretaries in a desperate attempt to come up with someone willing to take the job.
Top choices and expectations have now retreated somewhat. Former Secretary and senior poohbah of the Wounded Wallet Club Anthony Principi, has been discussed as a viable candidate. Principi, with two terms at the helm, is the biggest contender among GOP politicians after Congressman Miller. The Big Six major Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) have steadfastly insisted on keeping the current VA Secretary, Bob McDonald. Notably, our President-elect has elected not to meet with the diehard VSO fanatics in their funny hats. Many put their chips down on Clinton and the New Elephant isn’t forgetting that.
In light of the President-elect insisting on new blood and his displeasure with McDonald’s seeming inability to create a viable appointment schedule for Vets at VAMCs, the major big name VSOs have universally weighed in with their choice of former Secretary Jesse Brown as a fallback position after McDonald. Sadly, it has been pointed out to the VSOs Mr. Brown is no longer a viable candidate, having departed to the Happy Hunting Grounds in 2002. For some reason, they have a hard time decyphering the meaning of ‘deceased’. Their second fallback candidate, Ed Derwinski suffers the same problem. However, having been born and raised in Chicago, Brown’s demise is not considered a permanent disqualifier. He has been reputed to be active in his community and votes regularly so he has that going for him.
James B. Peake M.D., the sixth (not counting acting VASECS) leader of the beleaguered agency, has been cheered on by his fellow West Point Graduates with the possible exception of the present VASEC ringknocker and his second-in-command, Sloan D. Gibson. Unfortunately, the sole metric of being a member of the Long Grey Line has not proved a very good barometer of success in this venue to date. Eric Shinseki bowed out in disgrace after his tenure due to his inability to exert change on the troubled agency. Running around in winter handing out Col. Sander’s high-cholesterol Kentucky Fried Chicken to homeless Vets in DC should have been a slam dunk for a permanent tenure at 810 Delay Avenue NW but you also have to exert command influence over the little people. Eric didn’t and it ‘bit him on his buttocks’ as they say down in Greenbow, Alabama.
So, let’s sum up the past VASECS and how they might fare if recalled to serve in office. Surely, one of these fellers can hack the course.
Ed Derwinski- not considered viable due to oxygen starvation for over 4 years. Was a politician and did his best to prevent Vets from attaining anything more than hearing loss for 0% during his tenure. Probability is 8%
Tony Principi- acting VASEC for six months and later for five years, was an Annapolis graduate. It did help when it came time to “inventing” QTC and creating the perfect golden parachute after his second tenure in 2005. He has moved on looking for cushy jobs in Veterans charities and dabbled in politics since the reputed sale of all his QTC stock (and controlling interest) recently to Lockheed. Sadly, the probability is 19%.
Jesse Brown-deceased- but being from Chicago, and having the endurance of the Energizer Bunny, is never considered out of the running. VSOs’ outstanding favorite 2 to 1 behind McDonald. Probability is 18% until he fails to show up for the interview this week .
Hershel W. Gober- notable for his musical flair, released a 45 rpm single during his tour in Vietnam in 1970, “Picture of a Man”, which received some airplay on AFVN. This ought to be a clincher for a comeback but former Secretary Gober had a penchant for chasing skirts. He even ended up marrying the OGC General Counsel Mary Lou Keener after playing house with her for a while (in office). His future chances of a permanent slot in the VASEC cockpit faded after that stunt and he just got elected as the Executive director of the Military Order of the Purple Nurple. Since that pays far more than the VA secretary slot ($200,000 w/ medical and chauffeured Cadillac), he is not expected to accept. Seriously, would you trade in $393 K , a chauffeur and a Gulfstream V for this headache? Probability is less than 5%.
Togo D. West isn’t a real soldier. He came up through the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) which is akin to being a nurse. Basic and advanced training is generally waived after you learn how to salute and recognize rank. You still get all the big medals like the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit though. He was an Eagle Scout and definitely has that going for him. Support for Togo is tepid at best among the general Vet population. Some say that ‘Togo” moniker has to go. Probability is low at 12%.
Jim Nicholson- Another ringknocker who did eight years active and 30 years in the Army total. He has nothing more to show for it than attaining the rank of full bird colonel and has been bandied about by the transition team as “marginal”. Some feel he’s like an NFL team that can’t convert on 3rd and inches and always misses the field goal attempt. He lasted two years under Bush and faded into a career in real estate. Jimbo has the usual CIB and Bronze Star and got his ticket punched in Vietnam for a year. Other than that, there’s not much there and the mustache is a definite drawback these days. Probability is a tepid 9%.
Gordon H. Mansfield, a Veteran with the usual PHs, BSs and CIBs, came to us via the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). He was the Executive director there but saw a good opportunity to get a better paycheck as VASEC for a while. He was temporary for several months until Congress seated Dr. Peake. As a potential candidate, the transition team has anonymously rated him ‘not at least as likely as not’ to ascend to VA Secretary. That’s pretty unequivocal but don’t rule any of these gomers out. They’re like DC bubblegum and can get stuck to your shoe. Probability for Gordo is low at 8% due to his being room temperature but he may develop a following as major VSOs discover Jesse Brown is equally unavailable as well. Stranger things have transpired in DC. Look who just got elected!
As I’ve discussed above, the final four (Peake, Shinseki, Gibson and McDonald), the most recent VASECs, are all graduates of the US Military Academy but have little more than that to recommend them. Shinseki was notable only for his combat experience. Sadly, it didn’t translate into a viable career at the VA.
McDonald is quite enamored of his peacetime Ranger tabs thinking they are commensurate with being a dyed-in-the-wool combat tough guy. Buy him a drink and he’ll tell you all about it. Rumor has it he’s partial to Johnny Walker Blue. Since Gibson is his number 2, we won’t rate him. McDonald comes in with the highest rating of 26% assuming nobody else can be induced to serve.
Transition personnel confirm they will have a warm body for Congress to vote on by the time the President-elect is inaugurated. The operable word is “warm”.