Veterans remain angry even after VA secretary confesses "misstatement"

The man brought in to restore credibility to the Department of Veterans Affairs had some explaining of his own to do Tuesday.

Secretary Robert McDonald corrected a misstatement that he made last month on the CBS Evening News about his own military record after the statement was questioned by several retired officers.

This comes, of course, at a time of controversy around prominent journalists who have been accused of inflating their war records.

"That was wrong and I have no excuse," McDonald said Tuesday.

The secretary apologized for what was said during an encounter when he falsely told a homeless veteran in Los Angeles that he had served in the special forces. The comment was captured by CBS News last month for a segment on this broadcast.

The fact that McDonald was not in the special forces was first reported in the Huffington Post Monday night. The secretary explained that when he saw the veteran, he was attempting to find common ground -- but got it wrong.

"And so what I was trying to do was find a way to connect with that veteran," he said. "And as I said, I made a misstatement. I apologize for that."

McDonald, a West Point graduate was trained as an elite soldier. He was an 82nd airport paratrooper -- who also completed Army Ranger training -- but he never formally joined the special forces.

He says he's never claimed to be special forces before. Last November, speaking to "60 Minutes," McDonald said this:

"I never served in combat. It wasn't my choice. I tried to be in combat. I was in the 82nd Airborne Division. I was an Army Ranger. But, we all feel inadequate because there's always someone else who's done something more."

The question of why McDonald misspoke rocked the veteran community.

The American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group expressed disappointment, "but a lie is a lie," a statement said. To many veterans, National Commander Mark Helm said, McDonald's false claim was insulting.

"There may be special forces that are angered that he would try, or even on a short notice like he did, to say that word 'special forces,'" said Helm.

But other veterans groups, along with the President, accepted the Secretary's apology, calling the job he's doing more important. McDonald gets credit for several VA reforms, including his outreach to homeless veterans, the reason he was in Los Angeles.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.