President Bush on Tuesday nominated a decorated U.S. Army veteran who was twice wounded in battle to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been criticized as unresponsive to troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The president said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. James Peake's personal and professional experience ensure his dedication to providing veterans with the care they need.
"Dr. Peake understands the view on both sides of the hospital bed, the doctors and the patients," said President Bush. "He will insist upon the highest level of care for every American veteran."
Peake, a physician who spent 40 years in military medicine, was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam as a platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division. He was wounded twice in battle and received his acceptance letter to Cornell University Medical College while in the hospital recovering.
He retired from the U.S. Army in 2004 after serving as lead commander in several medical posts, including four years as the U.S. Army surgeon general. He is now chief medical director and chief operating officer of QTC Management Inc., which provides government-outsourced occupational health and injury and disability examination services.
Peake said he is honored to have the opportunity to take care of the troops again.
"Fundamentally, I'm a soldier. I've been taking care of soldiers, essentially, all of my adult life. And to have that chance again — especially at this time, at a time when the American people and you, Mr. President, have so clearly committed to the well-being of those who have served — well, it's a high honor indeed," Peake said at a news conference announcing his nomination.
The Department of Veterans Affairs faces substantial challenges to provide services for wounded troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Former Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson stepped down Oct. 1 after revelations that wounded troops were receiving shoddy health care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Prior to accepting the post, he was U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The president noted that Peake would bring an impressive set of skills to the post, which — with 235,000 employees — heads the government's second-largest agency. "He will be the first physician and the first general to serve as secretary," the president said.
The nomination comes as the administration and Congress struggle to find clear answers to some of the worst problems afflicting wounded troops, such as adequate mental health treatment and timely payment of disability benefits.
Peake's experience in providing health care is vast.
From 2000 to '04, Peake was surgeon general of the U.S. Army, where he commanded 50,000 medical personnel and 187 army medical facilities across the world. He also was commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School.
From 2004 to '06, Peake was executive vice president and chief operating officer of Project HOPE, a nonprofit international health foundation. While at HOPE, he helped organize civilian volunteers aboard the Navy hospital ship Mercy as it responded to the tsunami in Indonesia, and aboard the hospital ship Comfort which responded to Hurricane Katrina.
Peake is the son of a medical services officer and a U.S. Army nurse.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press