VA secretary apologizes for claiming he served in special forces

Posted at 6:50 AM, Feb 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-24 06:57:16-05

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is admitting he erred in claiming during a conversation with a homeless veteran that he served in the U.S. military’s special forces.

McDonald’s claim came in a January exchange with the veteran, who said he’d served in special forces, that was captured by CBS News cameras for a story on the VA’s effort to find housing for homeless veterans.

“Special forces? What years? I was in special forces!” McDonald told the man.

McDonald completed Army Ranger training, but was never assigned to a Ranger battalion, serving instead in the 82nd Airborne Division.

When The Huffington Post contacted McDonald about the claim, he acknowledged that what he’d said “is not right. I was not in special forces. What I said was wrong.”

McDonald also admitted he misled the veteran in a statement issued Monday.

“While I was in Los Angeles, engaging a homeless individual to determine his Veteran status, I asked the man where he had served in the military. He responded that he had served in special forces. I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces,” McDonald said in the statement. “That was inaccurate and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement.”

The White House said Monday it’s accepting McDonald’s explanation of his comment.

“Secretary McDonald has apologized for the misstatement and noted that he never intended to misrepresent his military service,” a White House spokesperson said. “We take him at his word and expect that this will not impact the important work he’s doing to promote the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans.”

The claims were reminiscent of Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat whose 2010 campaign was rocked after he claimed to have served in Vietnam. Blumenthal spent six years in the Marine Corps Reserves, but was never actually sent to Vietnam.