Nicholson: Highly Partisan Republican Operative Lacks VA Experience

USA Today, Legion, and VFW

USA Today: Ambassador Nicholson is tapped for VA

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Thursday named soldier-politician-diplomat Jim Nicholson to head Veterans Affairs, the federal government’s second-largest Cabinet department.

If confirmed by the Senate, Nicholson will succeed Anthony Principi, whose resignation was announced Wednesday.  Nicholson, 66, is U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. He previously had been chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) during Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign.

An Iowa native who said he grew up “dirt poor,” Nicholson is a West Point graduate and a decorated Vietnam veteran who was an Army Ranger and paratrooper. A 22-year veteran of the Army Reserve, he retired at the rank of colonel. He was a lawyer and housing developer in Denver.

Bush praised the outgoing Principi as a “goodhearted man” whose legacy is that “veterans and their families … are receiving better care.”

David Gorman, head of Disabled American Veterans, said Principi’s work will make Nicholson’s job easier.

“With Secretary Principi at the helm, the VA charted a course that will enable the agency to serve veterans more effectively and more compassionately in the future,” Gorman said.

The usually lower-profile VA job has gotten more attention with the return of Iraq war veterans, many suffering serious injuries. The aging of Vietnam-era veterans also will put greater demands on the department.

“Our military is the pride of our country,” Nicholson said. ” Our country depends on them, and they have never, ever let us down. We must not let them down.”

The only initial criticism of Nicholson’s appointment was from Democrats who suggested that his background as RNC chairman raises questions.  “We’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now,” said Jim Holley, Democratic staff director of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “But we do have an early concern about his having held the highest appointed partisan political position there is.”

Contributing: David Moniz and William M. Welch

VFW Reaction: VFW Applauds VA Secretary’s Service; Issues Challenge to New Nominee

Washington, Dec. 9, 2004 – “He is a true veterans’ advocate,” said the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S., in reaction to Anthony J. Principi’s recent announcement that he will step down as the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“During his tenure, Secretary Principi constantly challenged his staff to improve their services to America’s 25 million veterans,” said John Furgess, who leads the largest organization of military combat veterans in the country. “And his work to address the needs and concerns of today’s newest generation of veterans who are fighting the war on terrorism typifies his vision and leadership.”

“Secretary Principi wore his compassion and commitment to veterans on his sleeve, a personality trait that forged extremely strong ties with all of America’s veterans and their families,” said Furgess. “We applaud him for his service to our country and wish him and his family the best of futures. He will be missed but not forgotten.”

With 230,000 employees, the VA is the second largest department in the federal government. Known primarily as a healthcare provider, the VA also oversees all veterans’ benefits programs that range from educational assistance and home loans to vocational rehabilitation and service-connected disability compensation.

President George W. Bush has nominated U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Jim Nicholson to succeed Principi.

“As a military veteran, Ambassador Nicholson meets the initial qualification we seek in a new VA secretary,” said Furgess. Both Nicholson and Furgess are Vietnam veterans and retired colonels from the Army Reserve and Tennessee Army National Guard, respectively.

“While we recognize the ambassador’s lack of experience in the complexities of leading the Department of Veterans Affairs, we welcome the opportunity to work with him on behalf of veterans everywhere,” said Furgess. “And we challenge him to continue to build upon Secretary Principi’s excellent roadmap for the future of veterans’ healthcare and benefits.”

American Legion Reaction: VA Secretary Resigns, President Announces Nominee

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 09, 2004  –  President Bush today announced his nominee to replace outgoing Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi who resigned yesterday.

R. James Nicholson will succeed Principi following Senate confirmation.  Nicholson, a U.S. Military Academy graduate and decorated Vietnam War veteran, is currently serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.

After graduation from West Point, Nicholson served 8 years as an Army Ranger and paratrooper, then 22 years in the Army Reserve, retiring with the rank of full colonel. As a Ranger in Vietnam, he earned the Bronze Star Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry and two Air Medals.

Nicholson also holds a master’s degree in public policy from Columbia University in New York and a law degree from the University of Denver. He practiced law with a major Denver law firm and after two years of practice, became a partner, specializing in real estate, municipal finance, and zoning law.

A successful businessman, Nicholson was tapped in 1997 to head the Republican National Committee.

According to his biography, Nicholson’s tenure as RNC chairman was marked by record fund raising and flawless adherence to the rules and ethics. During his chairmanship, Nicholson held a series of meetings with leaders in the veterans’ community to discuss areas of concern.

Challenges Ahead

As the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Nicholson will face several challenges including health care funding, timely health care for veterans currently enrolled in the system, and for the new era of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He will also need to address the quality of decisions on veterans’ benefit claims.

Secretary Principi, himself a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has served this nation’s 25 million veterans well.

Principi’s desire to improve the lives of America’s veterans through his role as Secretary stemmed from his personal understanding of the deep commitment and selfless sacrifices made daily by the men and women of the U.S. military. With two sons currently serving in the global war on terrorism and through his own service as a River Patrol Unit Commander in Vietnam Secretary Principi clearly understands the importance of fulfilling this nations commitment to it’s men and women who have served and are currently serving. His accomplishments were appreciated and his leadership will indeed be missed.

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