White House Distorts American Legion Position on Veterans Controversy
At the White House briefing today, Press Secretary Jay Carney repeatedly suggested the American Legion had praised the Department of Veterans Affairs for the resignation Friday of top VA health official Dr. Robert Petzel.
It turns out, however, the American legion had issued a statement dismissing the resignation as "business as usual."
Here's what Carney said at the White House briefing: "The American Legion said that the group looks at Petzel's resignation as a, quote, step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA. So I think that undercuts the assertion that that is not a meaningful development."
Carney went on to cite the American Legion nine times during the briefing.
The White House explained that Carney was directly quoting from newspaper accounts citing the commander of the American Legion's reaction to Petzel's resignation.
But the American Legion put out a statement on Friday about Dr. Petzel's resignation saying almost exactly the opposite of what Carney suggested.
"This move by VA is not a corrective action, but a continuation of business as usual," American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said in a statement. "Dr. Petzel was already scheduled to retire this year, so his resignation now really won't make that much of a difference."
The statement - which can be found on the at the top of the American Legion's website - goes on to say the real problem is at the top of VA. "Secretary [Eric] Shinseki and Under Secretary [Allison] Hickey remain on the job. They are both part of VA's leadership problem, and we want them to resign as soon as possible."
When asked about the discrepancy, the White House pointed ABC News to articles in the Washington Times and USA Today that posted on Friday and quoted American Legion officials calling the resignation a "step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA."
The official quoted, spokesman John Raughter, acknowledged saying it was a step forward but not much of a step.
"It was a small a step," Raughter told ABC News. "It was going to happen anyway. So, I suppose it was better than if he had stayed on the job."
Was Raughter suggesting the problems at the VA had been addressed in a significant way?
"Not at all," he said. "We feel there is a cultural change that needs to be made."
As for the way the White House has cited the group, American Legion spokesman Peter Gayton told ABC News, "We hope they read the commander's full release on Dr. Petzel's resignation."