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VA Secretary: Sorry I Claimed I Was In Special Forces

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[CBS News Photo] [CBS News Photo]
WASHINGTON -

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald apologized Monday for misstating that he had served in the military's special forces.

McDonald made the erroneous claim while speaking to a homeless veteran during a segment that aired last month on the "CBS Evening News."

In a statement released Monday by the VA, McDonald said, "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. That was inaccurate and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement."

The VA website says McDonald is an Army veteran who served with the 82nd Airborne Division. The Huffington Post website, which first reported on McDonald's mistake, noted Monday that the 82nd is not considered part of special forces.

McDonald said he remains committed "to the ongoing effort to reform VA."

The White House issued a statement Monday saying, "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."

President Obama chose the former Procter & Gamble CEO to take over the scandal-plagued VA last year, and McDonald took office last July.

The questions about McDonald's service come as TV newsmen Brian Williams and Bill O'Reilly have had their claims about covering foreign wars called into question.

The special forces are considered an elite fighting force that include among others Green Berets and Navy Seals, explains CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews. They are often deployed on highly specialized missions such as rescuing hostages and carrying out counter terrorism strikes.

Mcdonald is a West Point graduate and was chosen by Mr. Obama to clean up a Veterans Affairs Department plagued by scandal. The department admitted to excessively poor care of former service members and covering up months-long wait times for more than 100,000 vets.

Last November, he told Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes" about trying to repair the VA's tarnished image.

"We're simplistically talking about people who violated our values," McDonald said.

And those values are what?

"It's integrity, it's advocacy, it's respect, it's excellence," Mc Donald replied. "These are the things that we try to do for our veterans."

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