By Chris Good
With the resignation of Gen. Eric Shinseki as Veterans Affairs Administration secretary on Friday, President Obama announced that Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson will head the sprawling veterans’ bureaucracy until a new secretary is nominated.
Gibson is a West Point graduate and former banker who formerly headed the United Services Organizations (USO). He has made no headlines during his time at the VA, coming into the new role virtually unknown to the broader public.
Gibson graduated from West Point in 1975, earning both Airborne and Ranger qualifications, and then served as an infantry officer in the Army, according to his VA bio page.
He went on to a 20-year banking career in Charlotte, Atlanta, Nashville, and Birmingham, retiring in 2004 from AmSouth, a small bank that began in Birmingham and expanded in the South in the 1980s and early 1990s, and again in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Gibson served as its chief financial officer.
The USO performed well under Gibson’s tenure, where he seems to have proven to be an effective fundraiser. The organization increased its fundraising by 90 percent under Gibson, who started there in 2008, according to his VA bio page.
In 2011, Obama awarded a National Medal of the Arts to the USO “for lifting the spirits of service members and their families through the arts,” as the emcee put it at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Gibson accepted the medal on behalf of the USO. (He appears with Obama at 13:40 in this White House video.)
In September, Obama nominated Gibson for his current role at the VA. The Senate confirmed him in February.
Gibson will have to preside over the fixing of a very large problem, now that he’s in charge. The VA’s recent inspector-general investigation found systemic problems in how the VA schedules beneficiaries for doctors’ appointments, and the investigation broadened to include 42 facilities.
“Sloan has 20 years of private sector and nonprofit experience that he brings to bear on our ongoing work to build a 21st century VA, and I’m grateful that he is willing to take on this task,” Obama said Friday, appearing in the White House press briefing room to announce he had accepted Shinseki’s resignation, adding that “reforms should not wait. They need to proceed immediately.”
Some are already under way. Before submitting his resignation to Obama, Shinseki spoke to a conference on homeless veterans Friday morning, announcing he had initiated the firing of senior VA leaders in Phoenix, where the scandal began, and that he had ordered employees to no longer be evaluated based on how long VA beneficiaries reportedly wait for doctors’ appointments — seemingly removing an incentive to mishandle waiting lists and artificially report shorter times.