Mideast edition, Wednesday, July 18, 2007

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson abruptly resigned from his Cabinet post on Tuesday, saying he plans on returning to private sector work.

Nicholson, an Army combat veteran who has served in the post since February 2005, announced he would step down by Oct. 1.

In a letter explaining his resignation, the 69-year-old said he had no specific plans but “it is time for me to get back into business while I still can.”

Nicholson is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and had previously served as chairman of the Republican National Committee and the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

“It has been an honor and privilege to lead the VA during this historic time for our men and women who have worn the uniform,” he said in his letter to President Bush. “We have accomplished so much and the VA is always striving to improve our services to veterans.”

As secretary, he oversaw expansion of the number of veterans centers across the country and has pushed for better screening of recent combat veterans for traumatic stress disorders and traumatic brain injuries.

But he also came under heavy criticism for delays in the delivery of health care to veterans, and several Capitol Hill Democrats called for his resignation after lax safeguards allowed the Social Security numbers of more than 26 million veterans and active-duty troops to be stolen from a VA employee’s home in May 2006.

Nicholson announced his decision at a meeting with department employees in Washington on Tuesday morning.

“The American people can feel proud about the way we are treating our veterans,” he told the staffers.

White House officials confirmed the resignation but did not offer any time line for when a new secretary would be nominated.

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