December 6, 2007 in Nation/World

Senate panel questions VA nominee

Philip Dine St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 

WASHINGTON – Skepticism ran high at Wednesday’s hearing for Lt. Gen. James Peake, the nominee to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs. But problems at the VA and a leadership vacuum led most senators to say they would support the nomination, which is expected to go to the full Senate later this month.

Peake said he knew little about the 22,000 veterans who have been discharged for “pre-existing personality disorders.” He told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that he was “aware of the issue” but needed to look into “the individual cases.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a committee member and leading administration critic on the issue, said she found Peake’s answers “disappointing.”

The military has told thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that their mental health problems don’t stem from combat, but from personality problems that predate their military service – making them ineligible for top treatment and benefits.

The rise in brain trauma and related problems associated with the war in Iraq, was raised at the hearing in a letter submitted by Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-Mo.

Peake agreed that psychological problems and brain injuries “are likely to become the signature injury of this conflict.”

His background as a Vietnam veteran, a military physician and Army surgeon general was widely praised at the hearing. But several senators questioned whether Peake would be a forceful, independent advocate for veterans.

He responded that he would tell Congress if veterans’ needs weren’t being met. Sen. Arlen Spector, R-Pa., told Peake that “this committee will back you up” if he had to battle with the White House for more resources.

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