October 31, 2007 in Nation/World

Physician, veteran tapped to lead VA

Michael A. Fletcher and William Branigin Washington Post

WASHINGTON – President Bush on Tuesday nominated retired Army Lt. Gen. James Peake to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is struggling to make the changes needed to care for the wounded troops returning home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If confirmed by the Senate, the twice-wounded veteran of the Vietnam War will be the first physician and first general to serve as secretary of the department. Peake served as Army surgeon general from 2000 to 2004.

Peake’s nomination comes as the administration and Congress are wrestling with the problems facing troops returning home with physical and mental wounds. The Bush administration has proposed overhauling how wounded service members are treated after they return from war, a project launched after revelations of shoddy conditions and constricting red tape at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Speaking after Bush’s introduction, Peake declared that “fundamentally, I’m a soldier” and said it was a high honor to be offered the opportunity to continue his life’s work taking care of fellow service members.

Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., who was co-chairman of the commission to improve health care for wounded troops, said Peake seems to be a good choice: “He’s been on both sides. He was a patient after he was wounded in Vietnam, and he spent much of his career as a caregiver.”

But Peake appears likely to face tough questioning in his Senate confirmation hearing.

“Given Dr. Peake’s past posts running the Army health care system, he will have serious and significant questions to answer about failed preparations for our returning wounded warriors,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Veteran Affairs Committee.

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