President Obama said Monday that his choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs will have to fix a system in which even an eventual Medal of Honor recipient faced delays in getting treatment for grievous battle wounds.
Obama cited the case of Marine Corp. Kyle Carpenter, who was awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony earlier this month for his selfless action in diving on a grenade to save other Marines in Afghanistan.
Obama said he had Carpenter’s permission to state that "his experience with VA health care has often been frustrating."
"He is an American hero, by any definition. Sometimes we use that word too loosely. This guy is a hero and deserves everything we can do," Obama said.
However, "like other veterans, Kyle sometimes had trouble just making an appointment, or had to wait a month to see his doctor, only to be referred to another doctor and wait another two months for that appointment," Obama said.
Carpenter told the president that he often felt like a number that was passed between doctors.
Obama made the remarks at a Department of Veterans Affairs ceremony at which he introduced former Proctor & Gamble chief executive Robert A. "Bob" McDonald, as his nominee to head the troubled agency.
In his own brief remarks, McDonald, 61, a West Point graduate, pledged to use his business experience to treat veterans as valued customers.
"At Proctor and Gamble we always focus on our customer," McDonald said. "At the VA, the veteran is our customer, and we must all focus -- all day, every day -- on getting them the benefits and the care that they’ve so earned," McDonald said.
McDonald was with P&G for 33 years after five years in the active duty Army before leaving as a captain.
As chief executive, McDonald oversaw more than 120,000 employees, with operations around the world, selling products in more than 180 countries and more than 2.5 million stores, reaching more than 5 billion customers.
McDonald is a Republican, according to records at the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Ohio, USA Today reported, and his membership in the GOP could ease his confirmation process in the Senate.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that McDonald "has been one of America's premier corporate leaders and is a fellow Army veteran and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. If confirmed by Congress, he will be well-equipped to lead the VA."
In his remarks at the VA, Obama said his administration was determined to overhaul the VA and get past the scandals over waiting lists and poor treatment that led to the resignation of retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki as VA Secretary.
"Let me state the obvious -- this is not going to be an easy assignment" for McDonald, Obama said. "We're here today because of problems that have outraged us all. That includes the inexcusable conduct that we've seen at too many VA health care facilities."
"The first thing everyone should know is that those responsible for manipulating or falsifying records at the VA -- and those who tolerated it -- are being held accountable," Obama said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org