- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Having spent more than 35 years of my professional life in public service, I must take issue with your July 9 Page One article “Principi prodded VA on Chantix.”

As a combat-decorated Vietnam veteran, Republican staff director of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs (1984-88), deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (1989-93), chairman of the Commission on Veterans Transition Assistance (1996-98) and secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs - I know of few people more committed to veterans and their health and welfare than I. Therefore, it is important that I set the record straight.

The VA first lifted the co-payment requirement for veterans participating in a smoking-cessation program in 2004. I stand by that decision to help veterans quit smoking. At that time, I had no direct or indirect contact with anyone at Pfizer. The drug Chantix had not been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval, and I knew nothing of its existence.

Upon leaving office in early 2005, I entertained several employment options in the private sector. I accepted a position with Pfizer, but my tenure lasted a matter of months. In March, 2005, President Bush asked me to return to public service as the chairman of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC).

I concluded my work on BRAC in the fall of 2005. Soon thereafter, I accepted the position as chairman of the board for a California-based company. My intention was to move West eventually. Again, Pfizer contacted me. I decided to rejoin the company in March 2006.

I first learned of Chantix after its FDA approval in May 2006. I had no knowledge of any smoking-cessation studies involving veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder until I read The Washington Times’ article. I never lobbied or prodded VA on behalf of Pfizer.

For anyone to assert that any decision I made as a Cabinet secretary was designed to benefit my life after public service, or for anyone to suggest that I have used my public service for profit is not only unfair but untrue.

My decision to resign from a senior executive position with Pfizer after two months to return to public service as chairman of BRAC is evidence of my willingness to put public service above self.

If The Washington Times believes we, as a nation, need to further review the employment options available to former members of any administration, so be it. But the facts simply do not support The Washington Times using this former Cabinet secretary to support its case.

ANTHONY J. PRINCIPI

Easton, Md.

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