TIME gender

What We Can Learn From the Women Who Passed as Men to Serve in the U.S. Army

People like 'Lyons' Wakeman have a lesson for today

Now that the Pentagon has lifted the 1994 ban barring women from serving in special-operations and combat units, critics are waging a battle of their own, insisting that women lack the physical and psychological stamina that combat requires. While military officials insist they won’t soften their intense standards in order to allow more women entry, opponents argue that women will never be able to join otherwise, and that the Pentagon’s push for diversity will only result in a weakened United States military that places us at risk. Right now, the Marine Corps is in the middle of an experiment to test whether women can adequately perform the tough work required to defend the nation.

But American history is already full of women who can answer that question: during the Civil War, there were as many as 400 women who disguised themselves as men and fought for both the Union and the Confederacy. They pulled off their charades so well that few people today even know their stories.

“War actually shapes history, and history has always been about men,” says C.J. Longanecker, a historian and former ranger for the National Park Service. “But women were always there; they just didn’t get the press coverage.”

For one female soldier buried in Chalmette National Cemetery in Louisiana, it took more than 100 years to get the press coverage she deserved. Her story ends just east of New Orleans, where 15,000 headstones stretch out in seemingly infinite rows, interrupted only by the occasional oak tree.

Her story begins, though, in 1843 in Afton, N.Y., when a farmer’s wife gave birth to the first of her nine children—Sarah Rosetta, or just Rosetta. Like the lives of so many other women who enlisted as men, Rosetta’s life would revolve around hard labor and her family’s many debts. By the time Rosetta turned 19, she still had no marriage offers—a suffocating verdict for a woman who lacked both education and social status in the 19th century.

So Rosetta cut her hair, found a pair of men’s trousers and became 21-year-old Lyons Wakeman, leaving behind her family’s farm and fighting for independence in the only way that seemed possible.

She enlisted with the 153rd New York Infantry regiment, which encamped at both Alexandria, Va., and Washington D.C. before campaigning in Louisiana. In her book An Uncommon Soldier, Historian Lauren Cook Burgess has assembled Rosetta’s private letters to her family from the battlefield. As Burgess’ book shows us, Rosetta not only survived in a soldier’s life, she excelled at it:

“I don’t know how long before I shall have to go in the field of battle,” Rosetta writes. “For my part I don’t care. I don’t feel afraid to go…I am as independent as a hog on the ice.”

The eager young woman took to chewing tobacco and adopted all the “vices” that a typical soldier embraced. The five-ft.-tall Rosetta even won a brawl once with a much larger and much rowdier soldier than she, landing a few punches on him and no doubt earning some cheers from her comrades.

Rosetta eventually fought in another kind of battle, one more savage than she could have imagined. The Battle of Pleasant Hill took place in northwest Louisiana on Apr. 9, 1864. It was part of the Union Army’s push to capture the area from the Confederates. “There was a heavy cannonading [sic] all day and a sharp firing of infantry,” Rosetta writes. ”I had to face the enemy bullets with my regiment. I was under fire about four hours and laid on the field of battle all night.” Rosetta’s regiment launched a full frontal attack on the Confederates, with their commanding officers later praising the 153rd for their fierce bravery.

Meanwhile, the soldier seemed forever haunted by her oppressed past life as a farmer’s daughter. In letters to New York, Rosetta can’t help repeat that she will never return home, as if she had to convince not only her family, but also herself.

“If I ever get clear from the Army I will come home and make you a visit, but I shall not stay long,” Rosetta writes. “I shall never live in that neighborhood again.”

Had Rosetta lived, she may well have spent the rest of her days as a man, as multiple women actually did when the fighting was over. Rosetta, however, did not live. She fell prey to the menace that killed more than 413,000 soldiers in the Civil War—disease. After the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Rosetta and her comrades were forced to participate in a hellish two-day, 70-mile march through the untamed Louisiana wilderness, with many men collapsing from exhaustion and pain before reaching the end. Rosetta survived, but developed chronic dysentery.

By the time Rosetta’s ambulance reached the Marine U.S.A General Hospital near New Orleans 15 days later, she had deteriorated into the acute stages of her disease.

Rosetta languished for a month and then died. Lyons Wakeman’s cover, however, did not. In a stunning combination of luck and poor 19th-century healthcare, it seems the Army never discovered Lyons’ true identity. The military ironically lists Lyons Wakeman as an “honest” and “faithful” soldier, who died from chronic diarrhea while serving.

Back in New York, the U.S. census that took place shortly after the war makes no mention of a Rosetta Wakeman, only listing the now-dead Lyons. Rosetta’s family never mentioned their eldest daughter again, instead hesitantly referring to a long-gone sibling “who went by the name of Lyons,” according to Burgess’ research. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when Rosetta’s descendants examined a stack of faded letters kept in an attic, that the astounding legacy of Rosetta—aka Lyons—was made public.

Could the Army hospital have possibly never noticed Rosetta’s true gender? Experts say it’s more plausible than you’d think. “Even enlisting, they didn’t do a physical examination without any clothes on, and people didn’t look at other people’s naked bodies in those days,” says Longanecker.

Conspiracy theories, however, abound. Longanecker believes the nurses at Marine U.S.A. General sympathized with Rosetta’s desperate masquerade. “Because she had been in the Army for some time, and because she was a well-respected soldier, they didn’t say anything because it would have prevented her parents from receiving any compensation for her death,” Longanecker says. “It was a kind of hush-hush thing.”

While Rosetta’s death may still be clouded with unanswered questions, her military service and contribution to the war couldn’t be clearer. Today, as we raise the question of women’s readiness for combat, we only have to remember Rosetta Wakeman—and the countless other women who’ve secretly served alongside men—for our answer.

TIME Terrorism

Peter Kassig’s Powerful Silence Before ISIS Beheaded Him

Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig ISIS Islamic State
Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig is pictured making a food delivery to refugees in Lebanonís Bekaa Valley in this May 2013 handout photo. Reuters

The former Army Ranger did not address the camera.

It’s tough to take any solace when the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria commits a murder, as it made clear yet again on Sunday it had done with the release of a video of the apparent beheading of American Peter Kassig.

But as grimly depressing as the video was—this is the fifth recorded killing of a Westerner released by the group since August—it differed from those that came before.

The video didn’t feature as many high production values or multi-camera angles. Most startling, Kassig, an Indiana native, didn’t make a final statement into his captors’ cameras, as those who died before him had done (he did, however, speak to Time early last year before he was kidnapped).

Kassig, 26, “doesn’t have much to say,” said ISIS’s British-accented, black-robed executioner on the video.

There is speculation over why this video is different.

“The likeliest possibility is that something went wrong when they were beheading him,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the New York Times.

But there’s another possibility. “I don’t know how this went down, or if it really did,” tweeted Andrew Exum. “But I like the idea of the Ranger not saying a damn thing.”

Kassig became a Ranger in 2006, and served with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Iraq in 2007. Exum himself is a former Ranger, an elite band of soldiers that the Army declares to be its “premier direct-action raid force.”

Kassig knew what he faced, and he knew the Ranger Creed, which says:

Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of the Rangers…

Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one-hundred-percent and then some.

Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.

His family, and his nation, can take solace in Ranger Kassig’s silent courage before his country’s enemies.

Read next: Graphic ISIS Video Claims US Aid Worker Beheaded

TIME National Security

More Band-Aids for the Nation’s Ailing Nuclear-Weapons Force

A US Air Force missile maintenance team removes the upper section of an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead in an undated USAF photo at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana.
A US Air Force missile maintenance team removes the upper section of an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead in an undated USAF photo at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. Airman John Parie—U.S. Air Force/Reuters

Pentagon beefs up spending to keep yesterday’s weapons ready for tomorrow

The U.S. military’s nuclear force — both its hardware (the weapons) and its software (the people who operate those weapons) — is in disarray. That can only come as a surprise to those who don’t concede the Cold War is over, and that neither the funding, nor the required mindset, exists to keep it going indefinitely.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday that a pair of reviews calls for spending about $7.5 billion over the next five years to shore up the nation’s nuclear weapons, as well as the bombers, land-based missiles and submarines that carry them. “The reviews found evidence of systematic problems that if not addressed could undermine the safety, security and effectiveness of the elements of the force in the future,” he said. “These problems include manning; infrastructure; and skill deficiencies; a culture of micro-management; and over-inspection and inadequate communication, follow-up, and accountability by senior department in nuclear enterprise leadership.”

There was a palpable sense of national mission when you visited nuclear sites during the Cold War. While that remains true at most sites, there’s a feeling gleaned from speaking with current nuclear officers that their mission isn’t as vital as it once was. Congress feels the same way, which is why the nation’s nuclear-weapons organization has been nickled-and-dimed, relatively speaking, for the past 25 years (although it’s slated to cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years).

Hagel ordered the reviews in January, after reports of widespread cheating surfaced among the airmen operating the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missiles at Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base. The Navy also discovered that some of its sailors had apparently cheated on tests involving the nuclear reactors that power some of the service’s ships and subs. The panels recommended more than 100 changes, which will be monitored by a newly created Nuclear Deterrent Enterprise Review Group that will report directly to Hagel every three months.

“Our nuclear triad deters nuclear attack on the United States and our allies and our partners,” Hagel told reporters. “It prevents potential adversaries from trying to escalate their way out of failed conventional aggression, and it provides the means for effective response should deterrence fail.”

Arms-control advocates disagree. “Apart from deterring a nuclear attack, nuclear weapons play an increasingly limited role in U.S. national security policy, but our arsenal is still configured and sized for a Cold War world that no longer exists,” says Kingston Reif of the non-profit Arms Control Association. “There are simply no plausible military missions for these weapons given their destructive power, the current security environment and the prowess of U.S. conventional forces.”

The Air Force has already made improvements. Last month, missile launch officers became eligible to receive up to $300 monthly because of the importance of their mission. New uniform and cold-weather gear also have been provided the ICBM crews, who work in North Dakota and Wyoming as well as Montana. It has added 1,100 more troops to its nuclear force (the Navy’s hiring 2,500 more). Last week, the Air Force awarded 25 airmen the new Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service medals to honor their work.

The roots of the problem runs deep. Over the past two decades, the Air Force has shifted responsibility for its ICBMs around like an unwanted child. The missiles bounced from Curtis Lemay’s Strategic Air Command, where they had been since becoming operational in 1959, to Air Combat Command in 1992. They moved to Space Command in 1993, and finally to Global Strike Command in 2009, created as a mini-SAC following a pair of nuclear snafus of 2007-08 that led to the cashiering of the Air Force’s top two officials. “We mattered under Strategic Air Command,” Dana Struckman, a retired colonel who manned missiles from 1989 to 1993, said earlier this year. “The Cold War was still on, and we had a sense of purpose that I don’t think they have today.”

Some official Air Force reports acknowledge the problem. “Many current senior Air Force leaders interviewed were cynical about the nuclear mission, its future, and its true (versus publicly stated) priority to the Air Force,” a 2012 Air Force paper said. Commanders routinely told nuclear airmen that they were in a “sunset business” and “were not contributing to the fight that mattered,” it added. A second Pentagon study noted that most airmen manning ICBMs “were not volunteers for missile duty.”

Hagel conceded the problems aren’t new. “Previous reviews of our nuclear enterprise lacked clear follow-up mechanisms,” he said. “Recommendations were implemented without the necessary follow-through to assess that they were implemented effectively. There was a lack of accountability.” To fix that, he said he has assigned Pentagon cost experts to monitor the new changes being made so that the Defense Department knows “what’s working and what’s not.”

The defense secretary pledged to “hold our leaders accountable up and down the chain of command.” That’s because the problems aren’t confined to the lower ranks. The Air Force fired Maj. Gen. Michael Carey — in charge of all the nation’s ICBMs — last year after an official trip to Moscow, where he drank excessively and cavorted with “suspect” women. During a layover at a Swiss airport, witnesses told Pentagon investigators that Carey “appeared drunk and, in the public area, talked loudly about the importance of his position as commander of the only operational nuclear force in the world and that he saves the world from war every day.”

Those still in charge don’t see their assignment as a Cold War mission. “I don’t think we’re any more a Cold War force than an aircraft carrier, or Special Ops, or the UH-1 helicopter,” Lieut. Gen. James Kowalksi, chief of Global Strike Command, said of his nuclear arsenal last year. A Russian first strike, in fact, has become such a “remote” possibility that it’s “hardly worth discussing,” he said. “The greatest risk to my force is an accident. The greatest risk to my force is doing something stupid.”

Kowalski became the No. 2 officer in U.S. Strategic Command in October 2013, overseeing the nation’s entire nuclear arsenal, after President Obama fired Vice Adm. Tim Giardina from the post for allegedly gambling in an Iowa casino with counterfeit chips. The charge — a felony — happened at Horseshoe Council Bluffs Casino, a 15-minute drive across the Missouri River from the nation’s nuclear headquarters.

Hagel implied Friday that operating the nation’s most deadly weapons in the 21st century is kind of like using enough wax and elbow grease to shine up an old jalopy: “We must restore the prestige that attracted the brightest minds of the Cold War era, so our most talented young men and women see the nuclear pathway as promising in value.” Only one problem: the most talented young men and women know the Cold War ended before they were born. Given that, they also know there’s no way to restore the resolve and purpose those manning the weapons against the Soviet Union once felt.

TIME Nuclear

U.S. Looks to Improve Management of Nuclear Weapons Cache

“Our nuclear deterrent plays a critical role in securing U.S. national security”

The United States’ arsenal of nuclear weapons is badly in need of a makeover, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.

“The good news is that there’s nothing here we can’t fix,” Hagel told reporters. “But if we don’t pay attention to this, if we don’t fix this eventually, it will get to a point where there are some questions about our security.”

Hagel said a full review of the country’s nuclear arsenal revealed “evidence of systematic problems,” including issues with manpower, infrastructure, skill deficiencies, a culture of micromanagement and over-inspection.

The overhaul of nuclear arms across the entire Department of Defense will include reforms that address each of these areas. In order to make the nuclear field a more attractive career path for young soldiers, for instance, Hagel elevated the Global Strike Command to so-called a four-star billet, meaning high-ranking soldiers in the nuclear fleet can be equal in rank to their counterparts in non-nuclear fields. Hagel also announced the creation of a new medal to recognize service in the nuclear field.

“Our nuclear deterrent plays a critical role in securing U.S. national security,” Hagel said. “No other capability remains more important.”

Read next: Why ISIS Can Survive Without Baghdadi

TIME Military

Former Navy SEAL Went Public on bin Laden Raid After Meeting 9/11 Families

Robert O'Neill says his role in the killing was "a difficult secret to keep"

The former Navy SEAL who claims to have fired the shot that killed Osama bin Laden said Friday that he was inspired to reveal his secret after meeting with the families of victims from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“I think it’s a difficult secret to keep,” Robert O’Neill said on CBS. All 23 SEALs who participated in the raid in Pakistan in 2011 were sworn to secrecy.

O’Neill, in interviews on CBS and NBC, said sharing his story with the families of 9/11 victims, and seeing the closure it gave them, prompted him to come forward.

He claims to have shot bin Laden three times in the face. Going public has prompted criticism from some but he told NBC he’s “prepared” for the backlash.

Read next: Why Navy SEALs Are Supposed to Keep Their Mouths Shut

TIME Military

U.S. Air Strikes Fail to Slow ISIS Killing Spree

Deaths caused by ISIS continue to climb

LONDON — U.S.-led airstrikes have failed to slow the number of ISIS attacks and its defiant militants are now racking up a higher body count than ever before, according to data provided exclusively to NBC News.

Analysis of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center’s (JTIC) database shows the current face — and pace — of the group’s battle for Syria and Iraq.

Data showed that ISIS massively stepped up attacks after conquering the Iraqi city of Mosul on June 10 — and has stepped them up further since airstrikes were launched in August…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Military

Military Recruitment Rules Conflict With Sikh American’s Faith

The ACLU and United Sikhs are suing the U.S. Army for not allowing a 19-year-old college student to join because his devout faith requires that he wear a turban and grow a beard

Ninteen-year-old Hofstra sophomore Iknoor Singh has always wanted to join the military. “During my senior year in high school, when I was looking at colleges, Hofstra appealed to me the most because it had an ROTC program on campus,” he told TIME.

So far, the Queens, New York native has been unable to realize his career dreams, thanks to strict military grooming and dress codes that conflict with his devout Sikh faith, which requires that he continue to grow his beard and wear a turban. But he’s not going to go down without a fight. On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union and United Sikhs sued the U.S. Army for not allowing Singh to join.

Singh actively sought out the on-campus recruiter to let him know that he wanted to serve his nation as a member of the armed services, but recruiters told him he likely wouldn’t be able to enlist because of his appearance. Though the Department of Defense grants religious exemptions on an individual basis, under military rules recruits are required to wear conservative hairstyles and keep facial hair groomed in an effort to promote cohesion within the ranks–a direct contradiction to the Sikh faith.

Many Sikh Americans have protested the military’s guidelines on grooming. In March, 105 members of Congress sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging an expansion of opportunities for Sikhs to enlist. Only three Sikhs since 1981 have been permitted to enlist and keep their articles of faith, including Maj. Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi who told the Los Angeles Times in April, “I would gladly sacrifice my life for the mission. But I could not cut my hair and remove my turban. They’re not mine to give. They belong to my God.”

Singh applied for a religious exemption as well, but his request was denied because he wasn’t yet enlisted. But of course, in a Catch-22, if he were to enlist, Singh would still have been required to adhere to grooming standards until his exemption was either accepted or denied. In either scenario, he would have to make the choice of his religion over his job or job over his religion.

The ACLU lawsuit alleges that the failure to make an exception in Singh’s case is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. “Our military should strive to welcome and accommodate recruits of all faiths,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Program on the Freedom of Religion and Belief in a statement. “Religious diversity is a strength, not a weakness.”

A change in DOD guidelines allows for religious accommodations, “unless a request would have an adverse effect on military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion and good order and discipline.” If a religious item, for example, interferes with a mask or poses a safety or health hazard, the request can be denied.

Singh hopes to become a military intelligence officer, and hopes that the lawsuit—aside from resulting in him getting to do what he wants to do—helps open doors for more Sikh Americans.

“This country was founded was founded on religious freedom,” Singh says. “I don’t think that’s being portrayed properly over here.”

TIME Media

America’s Changing Veterans

Aug. 29, 2011, cover of TIME
The Aug. 29, 2011, cover of TIME Cover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY DANIELLE LEVITT FOR TIME

From World War I to modern times, the way we talk about those who fight has rarely stayed the same

The United States has a long history of trying to look out for its veterans — in fact, that history is older than the country is. As TIME once noted, in discussing measures taken for World War II vets, the pilgrims at Plymouth wrote in 1636 that “If any man shalbee sent forth as a souldier and shall return maimed, hee shalbee maintained competently by the Collonie during his life.”

In the nearly four centuries that have passed since then, the relationship between America and those who have been sent forth as soldiers has changed — and so have the assumptions that society makes about who those people are. Say “veteran” now and the image the word conjures is very different from what it would have been in the 1930s, 1960s or 1980s. Over the years, TIME’s coverage of veterans’ issues has shed light on that evolution.

In honor of Veterans Day, here’s a look back at those ever-changing implications:

World War I

Many of the veterans of the Great War ended up enlisting in a second “army” shortly after returning home: the Bonus Army. The federal government had decided in the ’20s, when the victorious veterans were newly returned and the economy was rip-roaring, to grant those who had fought a bonus payment, payable about two decades later. Then the 1930s and the Great Depression happened. The men needed their bonuses right away, but the government wasn’t prepared to pay out. So, many of them organized into the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” and, in 1932, marched to Washington to demand payment. That August, the march turned into a riot, with a veteran named William Hushka shot by police and U.S. troops called in to assist in driving them out of town. “The unarmed B.E.F. did not give the troopers a real fight,” TIME reported. “They were too stunned and surprised that men wearing their old uniform should be turned against them.”

Read more: Battle of Washington, Aug. 8, 1932

World War II

The nation learned from the mistakes made after World War I and made sure the homecoming would go smoothly. The Veterans Administration had been fixed up, with Gen. Omar Bradley at the helm, and the G.I. Bill of Rights had been passed. To hear TIME tell it in 1946, veterans of the Second World War faced the opposite problem to the one that faced their predecessors: the veterans were so well taken care of that they felt lazy. “The country had promised to cushion the shock of their return and the country, for the most part, had made good. No soldier could deny that,” TIME wrote. “If anything, the cushion was too soft.”

Read more: Old Soldiers’ Soldier, Apr. 1, 1946

The Korean War

Coming close on the heels of WWII, the Korean War style of welcoming veterans home was mostly an extension of the process established in the 1940s. “By now, 15.3 million veterans of World War II, following by 4,500,000 from Korea, have gone back into civilian life with hardly a ripple,” TIME wrote in 1959. In fact, due to a combination of logistical preparedness for their return and a nation ready to embrace them, veterans tended to be further ahead than their civilian counterparts in terms of earnings and skills — and they were so well-adjusted that relatively few of them made use of the support structures that had been established.

Read more: What Ever Happened to the Veterans?, Jan. 5, 1959

The Vietnam War

It took nearly a decade after the end of the Vietnam War for TIME to wonder in a cover story what had happened to the parade for its veterans. “[After World War II] the mere uniform made a man a hero,” Lance Morrow wrote. “The troops who went to Korean got a muted version of the welcome. But then came America’s longest, strangest war. From that one, in Viet Nam, the boys came home alone, mostly one by one.” After newly returned Korean War vets had made their services seem extraneous, the V.A. had become seen as an institution concerned primarily with health care for aging vets of earlier wars; this traumatized younger cohort was left feeling like the nation just wanted to forget what had happened. The article introduced to TIME readers the phrase “posttraumatic stress”—it appeared in quotation marks—and underscored the importance of the psychological side of reentry to civilian life. It was as if the country had gone back to the post-WWI days, which was fitting, in some ways. “World War I was hard to beat as an example of dunderheaded, pointless slaughter,” Morrow wrote. “The men who fought it hated it just as much—and even in the same vocabularies—as the men who fought in Vietnam.”

Read more: The Forgotten Warriors, July 13, 1981

Iraq and Afghanistan

More recent writing about the veteran experience has held, in some ways, a mix of the past: respect is high but nobody thinks it’s easy. As TIME detailed in a 2011 cover story about veterans going into public service, it looks like that’s a good thing. “[Most] of the news we seem to hear about the veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan is pretty bad,” wrote Joe Klein. “It is all about suicides, domestic violence and posttraumatic stress disorder. It is about veterans who are jobless and homeless. All of which is true, but there is another side of their story that has not been told: the veterans like John Gallina and Dale Beatty, who have come back and decided to continue to serve their country.”

Read more: The New Greatest Generation, Aug. 29, 2011

TIME Military

New VA Chief Proposes Fixes for a Troubled Agency

VA Secretary Bob McDonald previews the coming changes at the VA last Thursday. Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor

Bob McDonald details four steps he’s taking to improve health care for vets

Former Procter & Gamble chief executive Bob McDonald showed over the past week that he has learned a lot about rolling out a new product. On Monday—the eve of Veterans Day—the new secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled what he called the largest restructuring in VA history, aimed at cutting delays for veterans seeking medical care that forced out his predecessor in May.

In a slow rollout that featured a Road to Veterans Day Action Review, and interviews on 60 Minutes and with print reporters, McDonald showed the marketing savvy he acquired as a 33-year veteran of P&G. But actually turning around the huge agency and its 300,000 workers will prove harder than heralding the fact that it’s happening.

Scandal enveloped the VA earlier this year after whistleblowers reported that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. Although investigators said they couldn’t prove that the delays were what caused the deaths, the resulting probes revealed a widespread effort by some in the VA to manipulate record-keeping to make delays appear shorter than they actually were. McDonald has said he has proposed disciplinary action for about 40 employees stemming from the scheduling scandal, and that as many as 1,000 more could face punishment as probes into their actions wrap up.

The systemic nature of the problem led to Shinseki’s ouster. McDonald took over in July.

“As VA moves forward, we will judge the success of all our efforts against a single metric—the outcomes we provide for Veterans,” he said in a status report he released last week. “The mission is to care for Veterans, so we must become more focused on Veteran needs.” But, in a message to VA workers on Monday, he conceded the retooling is a “long-term process” and that “we don’t have the all the answers right now.”

McDonald said he is making four major changes designed to simplify a veteran’s visit to the VA and make the organization more responsive to vets’ needs:

  • Create a “Chief Customer Service Officer” to “drive VA culture and practices to understand and respond to the expectations of our Veteran customers,” McDonald told VA employees. They’ll be encouraged to submit ideas on how to improve the agency beginning Tuesday, Veterans Day.
  • Build a “single regional framework” within the VA to allow vets “to more easily navigate VA without having to understand our inner structure.”
  • Work more closely with local, state and community partners “to coordinate better service delivery.”
  • Wring inefficiencies from the VA by sharing support services among different parts of the agency.

McDonald has won plaudits from insiders for his business acumen, his willingness to give out his cell phone number to pretty much anyone, and for encouraging VA employees to call him “Bob.”

But even if 99% of the VA’s employees act properly, that could still leave 3,000 potential troublemakers. The challenge he faces is the same that brought down the prior VA secretary, retired Army general Eric Shinseki. Like McDonald, Shinseki was a veteran. But Shinseki also had been wounded in Vietnam, treated in VA facilities, and had run a major governmental organization—the U.S. Army—before taking the reins at the VA when President Obama took office.

If the VA bureaucracy stumped someone like Shinseki, how confident is McDonald that it won’t do the same to him? “When you’ve run an $85 billion company in 200 countries around the world and you speak multiple languages and you’ve operated in those countries and you’ve traveled to 41 different sites,” McDonald said, “it’s pretty hard to hide stuff.”

TIME India

Indian PM Narendra Modi Greatly Expands His Cabinet

India's President Mukherjee, PM Modi, new cabinet ministers Manohar Parrikar and Suresh Prabhu pose after a swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi
India's President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, new cabinet ministers Manohar Parrikar and Suresh Prabhu pose after a swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi November 9, 2014. Prakash Singh—Pool/Reuters

The dividing of the defense and finance portfolios, previously united in the person of Arun Jaitley, is the main change

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi moved to give fresh focus to the country’s economic growth on Sunday, with a cabinet reshuffle that added 21 new ministers to his government.

The major change came in the portfolios of finance and defense, both previously held by Arun Jaitley — a senior leader in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Modi’s original decision to place Jaitley at the helm of the two vital ministries had been slammed by critics and opponents, who said Jaitley wouldn’t be able to do justice to either.

Jaitley has now been relieved of the defense portfolio, enabling him to devote more time to the Finance Ministry and help fulfill Modi’s planned economic turnaround.

Former Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, a 58-year-old widower with a no-nonsense reputation, has been named India’s new defense minister.

The cabinet expansion now means Modi’s council of ministers numbers 65 instead of 44, according to Reuters.

During his election campaign, Modi laid an emphasis on a more streamlined decision-making machinery at the top in order to function more efficiently and effectively, in a strategy called “minimum government, maximum governance.” But some media point out that the new council of ministers is not that much smaller than that of the previous government.

Nevertheless, India’s business leaders by-and-large expressed their approval at the changes.

“The cabinet expansion sends out a strong signal that the government under Prime Minister Modi is serious about accelerating the reforms process,” said Ajay Shriram, president of the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser