White House stands by VA chief after false military service claim

The White House on Tuesday gave a strong endorsement of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, following his admission that he made a false statement about his military record.

McDonald is “somebody who understands firsthand the sacrifice that our men and women in uniform make on a regular basis,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, citing his graduation from West Point and years of service in Army’s 82nd Airborne division.

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“He’s also somebody who understands firsthand about why what he said about his service was wrong,” he added, saying it was “appropriate for him to apologize.”

That said, there “is no reason to think that the mistake that he made should interfere” with McDonald’s ability to lead the VA, according to Earnest.

The former Procter and Gamble CEO is in hot water with lawmakers and veterans organizations after he admitted he made an “inaccurate” statement to a homeless veteran in Los Angeles last month when he said he had served in American special forces.

McDonald apologized for the mistake and, for now, that seems to be enough for President Obama.

Earnest said Obama was “pleased” with McDonald’s efforts to revamp the VA following last year’s controversy over patient wait times.

He said “generations” of VA chiefs have tried to reform the agency and that the president believes McDonald “has a difficult task in front of him.”

“I don’t think there’s anybody who wakes up in the morning thinking ‘Boy, my job is really hard today, I wish I could just go and walk in Bob McDonald’s shoes because that would be a weight off my shoulders,’” Earnest joked.

He said that Rob Nabors, the president's deputy chief of staff who was loaned out to the VA last summer to help clean up the scandal-plagued agency, is still working there and providing “advise and expertise” at the department.