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President Clinton Announces Resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Togo West, Creation of Home Heating Oil Reserve

Aired July 10, 2000 - 12:24 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: President Clinton at the White House, on his way to a governors' conference. he has some remarks. We will listen.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to say a few words in a moment about Togo West and Hershel Gober and the direction of the Department of Veteran Affairs and its mission, but first I'd like to make one brief announcement.

Since March, I have asked Congress to establish a home heating oil reserve in the Northeast to reduce the chance that future shortages will hurt consumers as they did last winter. Congress recently again has failed to act and time is running out. Winter may seem far off on this hot day, but if we don't do something now, reserve stocks of heating oil may not be in place before the cold weather comes.

That's why today I'm taking action to establish a home heating oil reserve to help families avoid higher energy costs this winter. First, I'm directing Secretary Richardson to exchange crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for 2 million barrels of home heating oil to store in the Northeast. Second, we're taking steps to establish this reserve on a permanent base.

The action I take today will leave us far better prepared to face the winter months, but it does not relieve Congress of the responsibility to act. So I renew my call to Congress: Please, provide the authority so we can tap into this new home heating oil reserve when we need it, take up my energy budget initiatives and the tax incentives, pass comprehensive electricity restructuring, reauthorize the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

These are things Congress can do right now to build a better, safer, more secure and more affordable energy future. I ask them again to do their part to increase our energy supply, protect the environment, increase energy conservation and keep our economy strong.

This morning, I accepted the decision of Togo West to step down as secretary of veterans affairs by month's end after more than two years of effective leadership on behalf of our 25 million veterans and their families.

Every day in every way, Togo West has given his all to make sure America does right by our men and women who have served us in uniform.

As secretary of the Army at the beginning of our administration, Togo West was known as a soldier's secretary. His leadership helped make the Army part of the best-trained, best-equipped, most potent fighting force in the world. He took special care to make sure that America took good care of our Army families, and he brought that same sense of purpose to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Under his leadership, the VA has begun to confront some long- neglected problems head-on, reaching out to more than 400,000 veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, pressing for answers to the Gulf War syndrome and proper care for those who suffer from it, beginning the process of building five new national cemeteries, the most since the Civil War, and making a special effort to bring homeless veterans back into the society they did so much to defend.

His leadership and devotion to our veterans helped improve lives and make this country a better place.

And on behalf of all Americans, Togo, I want to thank you for more than a quarter-of-century of service and selfless devotion to our nation.

To carry forward the vital work of the Department of Veterans Affairs, I turn to one who knows the work and the mission of the VA as well or better than anyone ever has, Deputy Secretary Hershel Gober. You all know we've been friends for many years. He did a superb job as the state director of veterans affairs in Arkansas when I served as governor. He did a superb job as acting director between the tenures of Secretaries Jesse Brown and Togo West.

There are few people in our country who have ever been as prepared for a job as Hershel Gober is for this one. He has an ear for the needs of our veterans because he has the heart of a soldier. A veteran of both the Army and the Marine Corps, Hershel Gober served two terms in Vietnam, earning the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Soldier's Medal.

A few years ago, I was honored that he agreed to head a delegation back to Vietnam to seek the fullest possible accounting of our men and women still missing in uniform.

Hershel has already made his mark on the critical issue of veterans' health care. Early in our administration, he came to me and recommended that we look for ways to bring health care closer to the veterans who needed it. Since then, we've opened more than 200 out- patient clinics all across America and have more planned this year. That's one of the big reasons we were able to treat -- listen to this -- 400,000 more veterans last year than we did the year before.

Hershel Gober has been a strong partner for both Secretary Brown and Secretary West. He will serve in a great tradition. And I thank him for agreeing to do so.

Now I'd like to ask them both to say a few words, beginning with Secretary West. TOGO WEST, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Thank you, Mr. President.

And congratulations to you, Hershel.

I think Hershel is a fine choice for the job he's being asked to take on.

I have been privileged to serve in all or part of each of the eight years of this historic administration. My wife -- who's not here today, she's in Santa Barbara looking after an ill sister -- and I will cherish the memory of every one of those years.

WOODRUFF: We are listening to departing Secretary of Veterans Affairs Togo West making a statement, as President Clinton announces he will leave that department at the end of the month, to be replaced by his deputy, Hershel Gober. The president also has just announced that he is establishing a special reserve of home heating oil, specifically for the Northeast, in the event of future shortages.



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