- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown, the Marine who rose from the trenches of Vietnam to lead the nation's second-largest Cabinet agency, died Thursday after a long illness. He was 58.
At the VA, Mr. Brown liked to call himself the secretary "for" veterans affairs and said he had won several battles with Congress because "we hold the high moral ground."
Mr. Brown suffered from lower motor neuron syndrome, which attacks nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
"I am ill, I am very ill," Mr. Brown said during a speech two years ago to the group he once headed, the Disabled American Veterans.
"I am not afraid. Nor am I bitter," he added. "The fact is, I am grateful. I have enjoyed tremendous opportunities in my life, and they have come to me because you were at my side, cheering me on."
The Detroit-born Mr. Brown grew up in Chicago and graduated with honors from Chicago City College. In 1963, he enlisted in the Marines and two years later he was seriously wounded while on patrol in Danang, Vietnam.
That injury left his right arm partially paralyzed and became the motivating factor for his life's work.
In 1967, Mr. Brown returned to Chicago to work for Disabled American Veterans, a 1.4 million-member advocacy group for veterans with service-connected disabilities. He moved to the group's headquarters in 1973.
While attending classes at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Catholic University in Washington, Mr. Brown increased his responsibilities at Disabled American Veterans, moving from supervisor of the National Appeals Office to deputy national service director and, in 1988, executive director.
He became a familiar figure on Capitol Hill, pushing Congress to support legislation ensuring that veterans receive their entitled health care services and benefits programs.
Former Rep. G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery, Mississippi Democrat, who was chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said of Mr. Brown's 1992 selection to the VA post that he "was the best possible choice … in these crucial times."
Mr. Montgomery said Mr. Brown "has an excellent grasp of the concerns of veterans and their families."
Mr. Brown was also an ideal choice for President Clinton, who had never served in the military and was distrusted by many in the military because of his efforts to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War, his promises to cut the defense budget and his decision to lift the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces.
In Mr. Brown, one of four blacks on the Clinton Cabinet, veterans groups knew they had a man who would stand up for their interests.
While still at Disabled American Veterans, Mr. Brown made clear his opposition to proposals to reduce some veterans' benefits as a way to help cut the federal budget deficit.
The savings "would be used to pay for the out-of-control expenses of Medicaid and Medicare programs," he wrote in a Disabled American Veterans publication in November 1992. "Can you imagine cutting the compensation of a 100 percent disabled veteran to pay for free medical care under Medicaid for persons who have made no contributions to their country's service?"
He also accused pharmaceutical companies of "gouging" the VA on drug purchases. "It's a moral outrage that drug companies are lining their pockets with money Congress intended for direct medical care to America's disabled veterans," he wrote.


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