San Diego Union-Tribune

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Senate confirms Principi for veterans affairs pos

24-Jan-2001 Wednesday


WASHINGTON -- The Senate yesterday unanimously confirmed Anthony J. Principi as secretary of veterans affairs, ensuring that the 56-year-old Rancho Santa Fe attorney returns to the agency he served under President Bush's father a decade ago.

Principi was not available for comment yesterday. But he previously promised Congress to "hit the ground running" and begin promptly to overhaul the department's sluggish claims-processing. Principi also promised to re-examine its massive health-care system.

Principi's nomination sailed easily through the confirmation process. He gained widespread support from lawmakers and veterans' groups.

A decorated Vietnam veteran, Principi was a deputy veterans affairs director and later acting secretary under former President Bush.

"I have accepted this challenge for one reason," Principi told lawmakers during a confirmation hearing last week. "If I can make a difference for America's veterans, then my rewards will far outweigh any sacrifice I may make. And I do intend to make a difference."

Principi described the Department of Veterans Affairs as being at a "critical juncture."

"Many veterans have lost faith in (the department's) ability to fairly and promptly decide their claims for benefits," Principi said.

In his confirmation hearing, Principi outlined in broad terms his plans to reform the agency. He also said that he would not hesitate to challenge the new president if he disagreed with him.

But Principi said he agreed with President Bush's plans for a
"top-to-bottom" review of the Veterans Affairs Department, which serves 24 million veterans nationwide. The department has 200,000 employees.

"He's a down-to-earth guy, someone easy to work with," said Bob Wallace, a deputy director of the Veterans for Foreign Wars.

During the confirmation hearing, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told Principi "the bar would be held higher" for Principi because of his experience.