A key veterans group on Wednesday demanded that Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald apologize for insulting a member of Congress who just happens to be a 22-year Marine Corps veteran.
McDonald got the attention of Concerned Veterans for America during the day when he got angry at a series of questions from Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.). Coffman was asking about the VA's failed hospital construction project in his home state, when McDonald stunned the room by trying to shift the blame to Coffman.
"You've been here longer than I have," McDonald said. "If there's a problem in Denver, I think you own it more than I do."
McDonald then seemed to imply that Coffman wasn't qualified to question the VA's activities, by saying, "I've run a large company, sir. What have you done?"
Pete Hegseth, the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, said McDonald was "disrespectful" of Coffman, who is the only member of Congress to serve in both Iraq wars, and demanded an apology.
"While it isn't exactly rare to see a cabinet-level officer face tough questions while testifying before Congress, the disrespectful, combative and accusatory tone Secretary McDonald took with Rep. Coffman today was out of line, inexcusable and in my view requires a formal apology," said Hegseth.
"Not only did Secretary McDonald attempt to shift blame for VA hospital construction delays and cost overruns for a facility in Rep. Coffman's district, but he then unbelievably spouted, 'I've run a large company, sir. What have you done?' to a 22-year Marine Corps and Army veteran who served in both Iraq wars," Hegseth added.
"Such behavior is not only beneath the dignity of the office Secretary McDonald is privileged to hold but it shows a lack of judgment and respect for the veterans like Rep. Coffman that his agency exists to serve," he added.
Hegseth said it's Coffman's job to ask questions related to VA oversight, and said Coffman has pointed out several VA management failures over the last several years.
The Denver project has drawn Coffman's attention over the last several weeks, and many critics have said the VA has failed to hold a top VA official, Glenn Haggstrom, accountable for the Denver debacle. Hegseth noted that Haggstrom is not only still working at the VA, but has also received "tens of thousands" of dollars in bonuses.
Hegseth also agreed with Coffman's assessment that McDonald so far has failed to bring the kinds of reforms the VA needs.
"In his short six months as head of the VA, in CVA's opinion, Secretary McDonald has shown more interest in preserving the status quo at the VA than actually fundamentally transforming the agency," Hegseth said.