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VA Secretary Apologizes For Making Special Forces Claim

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, seen here last November, has acknowledged that he was wrong when he said he had been in the special forces.
Chuck Myers
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, seen here last November, has acknowledged that he was wrong when he said he had been in the special forces.

Updated at 1:05 p.m. ET.

The head of Veterans Affairs has apologized for misrepresenting his military record, after telling a man that he had served in the U.S. Special Forces. Secretary Robert McDonald says he made a mistake.

The story drew attention late Monday, weeks after McDonald, an Army veteran and West Point graduate, made the claim during a conversation with a homeless man he met during a community outreach effort.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reports:

"The exchange was caught on camera by CBS News and first reported in the Huffington Post. Secretary McDonald was talking with a homeless man in Los Angeles as part of a push to get homeless vets in housing. The man said he was a special forces veteran, and McDonald replied that he served in special forces also.

McDonald went to Ranger school and served in the 82nd Airborne Division; he did not serve in a special operations Ranger regiment.

McDonald apologized for the error, saying he had no excuse; the White House reportedly has accepted his apology."

In the Army, the official label of Special Forces is reserved for Green Berets. All elite groups — Green Berets, Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Delta Force — fall under the broader label of Special Operations Forces or Special Operators.

Responding to questions from the Huffington Post, McDonald told the media outlet that what he said was wrong, and that he wanted to "clear up the confusion" over his remarks.

HuffPo reports: "McDonald said he has many friends in the special forces community 'and I have great respect for special forces.' But, he added, 'as I thought about this later I knew this [claim] was wrong.'"

Last July, McDonald joined President Obama's Cabinet in a move that was meant to settle down an agency that had been beset by scandals and mismanagement. McDonald was previously the CEO of Procter & Gamble.

According to a summary of his military career on the Veterans Affairs website, McDonald "served with the 82nd Airborne Division; completed Jungle, Arctic, and Desert Warfare training; and earned the Ranger tab, the Expert Infantryman Badge, and Senior Parachutist wings. Upon leaving military service, Captain McDonald was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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