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Brown, Jesse 1944–2002

Jesse Brown 19442002

Government official

Considered Himself a Casualty

Cut Through the Red Tape

Became Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Honored for Work With Veterans

Sources

Jesse Brown was the secretary of Veterans Affairs, a cabinet-level officeholder in the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton. As head of Veterans Affairs, Brown presided over one of the federal governments biggest enterprises, the multi-billion-dollar effort to provide health care, disability pensions, and other social amenities to those who had served in Americas armed forces. Himself a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who was wounded in that conflict, Brown spent his entire career helping to articulate and extend the rights of disabled veterans. As a member of Clintons cabinet, he faced the daunting task of keeping the Veterans Administration functioning at a high level of service in an era of budget cutbacks and health care reform.

Browns nomination for the Veterans Affairs position was greeted with optimism by members of veterans groups and those on Capitol Hill most closely associated with veterans causes. John M. Carney, commander in chief of the 2.2-million-member group Veterans of Foreign Wars told the New York Times: The Department of Veterans Affairs needs at its helm someone fighting for the veteran. Mr. Brown certainly fits that bill. Likewise, Congressman G. V. Montgomery of Mississippi, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, cited Brown for his excellent grasp of the concerns of veterans and their families. In announcing the nomination, President Clinton himself told USA Today that Brown knows first-hand that those who have given of themselves to fight for this country deserve the best this nation can offer.

Considered Himself a Casualty

Brown was born in Detroit on March 27, 1944, and grew up in a single-parent family with his mother and younger sister. The Browns were a close-knit family and looked after one another through some hard timesthey remained in almost daily contact throughout Browns life. When Brown was young, the family moved to Alabama and then back north to Chicago. Brown spent his teen years in that midwestern city, graduating from Hyde Park High School. In 1963 he enlisted in the Marines.

There was nothing heroic about my service whatsoever, Brown told the Chicago Tribune in 1992. Brown was stationed in Vietnam during some of the fiercest days of that conflict in the mid-1960s. We used to go on three patrols a day, and each one you got shot at, he recalled. This particular one, we were on a patrol and the sniper fire opened up and in the return of the fire I ended up getting hit, and that was the extent of it. I was just one of the 300,000 people that got wounded. The shooting, which occurred outside Danang in 1965, shattered Browns right arm, paralyzing it for life.

Under such circumstances, a Purple Heart medal is small consolation. Brown returned to America for treatment in a veterans hospital and pondered his future with great anxiety. During his year of physical therapy at Great Lakes Naval Hospital near Chicago, he learned how to use his left hand to write and perform other necessary tasks, but he still wondered

At a Glance

Born on March 27, 1944, in Detroit Ml; died on August 15, 2002, in Warrenton, VA; son of Lucille Brown; married Sylvia; children: Scott, Carmen. Education: Attended Roosevelt University; graduated with honors from Chicago City College; Kennedy-King Junior College, AA. Military Service: U.S. Marines, 196365.

Career: Disabled American Veterans, Washington, DC, national service officer in Chicago bureau, 196773, supervisor of appeals office in Washington, DC, 197382, member of legislative staff, 198268, executive director, 198893; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC, secretary, 199397.

Memberships: The SPECTRUM Group, board member; ADDS lnc., board member; Disabled Veterans LIFE Memorial Foundation, executive director.

Awards: Presidential Unsung Hero Award, LIFE, 2000; Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year, Disabled American Veterans, 2000.

how he would support himself with a permanent disability. Brown recalled in the Chicago Tribune that he wondered: What can I do now? I have only one hand. There were not very many jobs for black people that were productive, and most of those that were involved manual labor.

Support came from two sources. Browns mother, Lucille, who had always encouraged him to achieve, helped him to rebuild his confidence. He adjusted, she told the Chicago Tribune, and he never felt handicapped or sorry for himself. He made up his mind to try to find out what to do in life. That is when help arrived from another sourcethe Disabled American Veterans (DAV). A congressionally chartered non-profit organization, the DAV represented veterans wounded in wartime and served as an advocate for a wide array of veterans benefits. The DAV offered Brown a job. That alone was so inspirational, he told the Chicago Tribune, the mere fact that there was a group out there who looked at my injury as an asset, not a liability.

Cut Through the Red Tape

Brown began his career with the Disabled American Veterans as a national service officer in the Chicago bureau. His duties included interviewing veterans and shepherding their applications for benefits through the complicated government bureaucracy that determined disability status and pension needs. The work took on a personal urgency for Brown. Rick Heilman, a longtime co-worker at the DAV, told USA Today: Ive seen him just as giddy as a little kid winning benefits for a vet or some woman he didnt know and never would know. He just gets so elated. Its a personal victory for him. As his duties with the DAV increased over the years, Brown became a member of the generation that brought items like post traumatic stress disorder and Agent Orange into the language and into the statute books, said Felicity Barringer in the New York Times.

In 1973 Brown was promoted. He moved to DAV headquarters in Washington, D.C., as supervisor of the appeals office. Later in the decade he became headquarters manager and, in 1988, the agencys first-ever black executive director. Browns work took him into the halls of Congress as a lobbyist for veterans. He led the attack against efforts to reduce veterans benefits and was openly critical of the deteriorating veterans hospital system. Along the way he earned a reputation as a hard-working, plain-spoken, and intensely dedicated executive. Heilman told the Chicago Tribune: If you work with Jesse Brown, and especially if you work for him, you better be prepared. Dont think youre in for an eight-hour day.

Brown was not afraid to challenge Congress, either. On one occasion in 1990, after Congress refused to pass a veterans cost-of-living adjustment before adjourning for the year, but still voted itself a 25 percent pay raise, he lashed outas reprinted in USA Today: On our [DAV] legislative staff, we have three men; all of them are my age. And you know how many legs they have among them? One. One leg between three fine young men. Were talking about some mothers son. And these people [in Congress], a lot of them, they dont understand that, and Im not so sure they care about it. A lot of them just care about some of their pet projects. Browns uncompromising advocacy of veterans rights won him support in both Republican and Democratic circles, as well as among the nations 27 million veterans and their families.

Became Secretary of Veterans Affairs

As executive director of the DAV, Brown presided over a staff of 320 employees representing some two million veterans with a wide variety of combat-related disabilities. After having considered the Veterans Affairs Department something of an adversary for nearly two decades, it was a pleasant shock for Brown when he was asked by Clinton to run the massive agency, with its 260,000 employees and $34.3 billion dollar budget. Browns confirmation hearing for the cabinet position before a congressional committee went smoothly, and he took over as secretary of Veterans Affairs early in 1993.

He did not inherit an easy task. The Department of Veterans Affairs handled a wide array of duties, from providing pensions, compensation payments, and death benefits to veterans and spouses to offering funds for education, rehabilitation, home loan guarantees, and burial for service people. The agency also administered the massive veterans hospital system, a $13.8 billion-a-year enterprise, including 128 government nursing homes, 350 clinics, and 171 medical centers. Studies showed that budget cuts and the aging of the World War II veteran population had severely strained many Veterans Affairs programs, especially the hospital network. Brown stepped in with the goal of improving medical treatment for all veterans at the same time that the nation in general was seeking to curb medical costs. Billy Kirby, a former staff member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, told USA Today that he did not envy Brown. I told him I didnt know if I should congratulate him on the appointment or offer my condolences, Kirby said.

Brown lost no time in establishing his agenda as a member of the Clinton cabinet. His first goalwhich he saw as consistent with the presidents overall economic planwas to revitalize the veterans health system by introducing new measures to generate revenues. Brown proposed extending the care offered at veterans hospitals and clinics to any veteran who wished to use the facilities, not just the core group of severely disabled veterans. Brown asked for legislative authority to obtain reimbursements from such government programs as Medicare and Medicaid for treatment at veterans hospitals. He also advocated selling health insurance through the Department of Veterans Affairs to those veterans who did not have other coverage.

Los Angeles Times correspondent G. Martinez commented: If enacted, Browns proposals could bring about a radical transformation of a self-contained health care system that dates back to before the Civil War. For his part, Brown felt the sweeping changes could revitalize the veterans health care system without imposing greater debt on the federal government. Brown told the Washington Post that Veterans Affairs studies had shown that the existing veterans health care program could provide medical care at costs up to 22 percent below private hospitals. He asserted that his suggestions could reap tremendous cost savings in national health care while the VA system could become a laboratory for the wider mandate of health care reform.

Brown argued his case from a position of power. Named to Hillary Rodham Clintons Health Care Reform Committee in 1993, he devoted a great deal of time to studying the possibility of extending VA health care benefits to more veterans while preparing the Veterans Affairs department to share in the widespread federal budget cuts. Brown also wanted to devise additional programs to benefit homeless and drug-dependent veterans. Brown told the Los Angeles Times: Its my job to make sure that veterans are not adversely impacted in the nations effort to balance the budget. We want to do our part, but we would want [the veterans budget] evaluated equally, across the board.

Married and the father of two grown children, Jesse Brown lived in Warrenton, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. The cabinet secretary told the Chicago Tribune that he harbored no bitterness over his combat-related disability, nor did he resent thoselike President Clintonwho openly opposed the Vietnam War. I think [opposition to the war] saved many, many lives, he said. We lost over 58,000 people there, over 300,000 wounded, and in retrospect, you have to ask yourself, for what? He added: If it hadnt been for people who had a moral and philosophical opposition to the war, it could have been 200,000 dead. It could have been 600,000 wounded.

Honored for Work With Veterans

Brown left Veteran Affairs in 1997, but he was widely acknowledged, according to US Newswire, of having, among other things, dramatically reengineered [the VA medical system] to provide more veterans greater access to a broader range of health care services. He also convened the first national summit meeting on homeless veterans and expanded services to women veterans. After his stint with politics, Brown was named to several corporate boards, including ADDS Inc., and The SPECTRUM Group. He also became the executive director of the Disabled Veterans Leaders in Furthering Education (LIFE) Memorial Foundation, an organization that worked to create the first national memorial in Washington, D.C, to honor disabled veterans from all wars.

He began garnering awards for his many services to veterans. Brown was given the prestigious LIFES Presidential Unsung Hero Award on November 10, 2000, in Washington, D.C. Chairman Lois Pope, quoted in US Newswire, said of Brown at the time he received the award, LIFEs Presidential Unsung Hero Award seeks to honor an outstanding veteran who has demonstrated heroic efforts in surmounting disability and whose contributions to society serve as an inspiration to others. Around the same time Brown was selected the Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year for 2000 by the Disabled American Veterans.

On August 15, 2002, Brown died at his home in Virginia from lower motor neuron syndrome, a disease of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord related to Lou Gehrigs disease which he had been diagnosed with in 1999. He was only 58 years old. VFW Commander-in-Chief James Goldsmith told VFW Magazine, Jesse Brown was an icon among veterans. His combat experience forged in him the tenacity necessary to accomplish the many things he did on behalf of veterans. His death was a great loss to all the veterans he spent his life helping, but his life stands as an inspiration to all.

Sources

Black Enterprise, March 1993, pp. 7678.

Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1992, p. 22; December 26, 1992, p. 10.

Ebony, May 1993, pp. 30, 64.

Jet, May 10, 1993, p. 34; June 23, 1997, p. 5.; September 2, 2002, p. 8.

Los Angeles Times, February 8, 1993, p. A-1.

New York Times, December 18, 1992, p. 32.

US Newswire, August 11, 2000; November 8, 2000.

USA Today, January 7, 1993, p. A-8.

VFW Magazine, October 2002, p. 10.

Washington Post, March 6, 1993, p. A-4.

Anne Janette Johnson and Catherine Victoria Donaldson

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Brown, Jesse 1944–

Jesse Brown 1944

Member of the U.S. cabinet

At a Glance

Wounded in Vietnam

Cutting through the Red Tape

In the Clinton Cabinet

Sources

Jesse Brown is the secretary of Veterans Affairs, a cabinet-level officeholder in the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton. As head of Veterans Affairs, Brown presides over one of the federal governments biggest enterprises, the multi-billion-dollar effort to provide health care, disability pensions, and other social amenities to those who have served in Americas armed forces. Himself a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who was wounded in that conflict, Brown has spent his entire career helping to articulate and extend the rights of disabled veterans. As a member of Clintons cabinet, he now faces the daunting task of keeping the Veterans Administration functioning at a high level of service in an era of budget cutbacks and health care reform.

Browns nomination for the Veterans Affairs position was greeted with optimism by members of veterans groups and those on Capitol Hill most closely associated with veterans causes. John M. Carney, commander in chief of the 2.2-million-member group Veterans of Foreign Wars, told the New York Times: The Department of Veterans Affairs needs at its helm someone fighting for the veteran. Mr. Brown certainly fits that bill. Likewise, Congressman G. V. Montgomery of Mississippi, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, cited Brown for his excellent grasp of the concerns of veterans and their families. In announcing the nomination, President Clinton himself told USA Today that Brown knows first-hand that those who have given of themselves to fight for this country deserve the best this nation can offer.

Brown was born in Detroit on March 27, 1944, and grew up in a single-parent family with his mother and younger sister. The Browns were close-knit and looked after one another through some hard timeseven today they remain in almost daily contact. When Brown was young, the family moved to Alabama and then back north to Chicago. Brown spent his teen years in that midwestern city, graduating from Hyde Park High School. In 1963 he enlisted in the Marines.

There was nothing heroic about my service whatsoever, Brown told the Chicago Tribune in 1992. Brown was stationed in Vietnam during some of the fiercest days of that conflict in the mid-1960s. We used to go on three patrols a day, and each one you got shot at, he recalled. This particular one, we were on a patrol and the sniper fire opened up and in the return of the fire I ended up

At a Glance

Bom March 27, 1944, in Detroit, MI; son of Lucille Brown; married, wifes name Sylvia; two children. Education: Attended Roosevelt University; graduated with honors from Chicago City College; received A.A. from Kennedy-King Junior College.

Disabled American Veterans, Washington, DC, national service officer in Chicago bureau, 1967-73, supervisor of appeals office in Washington, DC, 1973-82, member of legislative staff, 1982-88, executive director, 1988-93; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC, secretary of Veterans Affairs, 1993. Military service: U.S. Marines; served in Vietnam; wounded in action near Danang, 1965.

Addresses: Home Warrenton, VA. OfficeU.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20420.

getting hit, and that was the extent of it. I was just one of the 300,000 people that got wounded. The shooting, which occurred outside Danang in 1965, shattered Browns right arm, paralyzing it for life.

Wounded in Vietnam

Under such circumstances, a Purple Heart medal is small consolation. Brown returned to America for treatment in a veterans hospital and pondered his future with great anxiety. During his year of physical therapy at Great Lakes Naval Hospital near Chicago, he learned how to use his left hand to write and perform other necessary tasks, but he still wondered how he would support himself with a permanent disability. Brown recalled in the Chicago Tribune that he wondered:What can I do now? I have only one hand. There were not very many jobs for black people that were productive, and most of those that were involved manual labor.

Support came from two sources. Browns mother, Lucille, who had always encouraged him to achieve, helped him to rebuild his confidence. He adjusted, she told the Chicago Tribune, and he never felt handicapped or sorry for himself. He made up his mind to try to find out what to do in life. That is when help arrived from another sourcethe Disabled American Veterans (DAV). A congressionally chartered non-profit organization, the DAV represents veterans wounded in wartime and serves as an advocate for a wide array of veterans benefits. The DAV offered Brown a job. That alone was so inspirational, he told the Chicago Tribune, the mere fact that there was a group out there who looked at my injury as an asset, not a liability.

Cutting through the Red Tape

Brown began his career with the Disabled American Veterans as a national service officer in the Chicago bureau. His duties included interviewing veterans and shepherding their applications for benefits through the complicated government bureaucracy that determines disability status and pension needs. The work took on a personal urgency for Brown. Rick Heilman, a longtime co-worker at the DAV, told USA Today: Ive seen him just as giddy as a little kid winning benefits for a vet or some woman he didnt know and never would know. He just gets so elated. Its a personal victory for him. As his duties with the DAV increased over the years, Brown became a member of the generation that brought items like post traumatic stress disorder and Agent Orange into the language and into the statute books, to quote Felicity Barringer in the New York Times.

In 1973 Brown was promoted. He moved to DAV headquarters in Washington, DC, as supervisor of the appeals office. Later in the decade he became headquarters manager and, in 1988, the agencys first-ever black executive director. Browns work took him into the halls of Congress as a lobbyist for veterans. He led the attack against efforts to reduce veterans benefits and was openly critical of the deteriorating veterans hospital system. Along the way he earned a reputation as a hard-working, plain-spoken, and intensely dedicated executive. Heilman told the Chicago Tribune: If you work with Jesse Brown, and especially if you work for him, you better be prepared. Dont think youre in for an eight-hour day.

Brown was not afraid to challenge Congress, either. On one occasion in 1990, after Congress refused to pass a veterans cost-of-living adjustment before adjourning for the year, but still voted itself a 25 percent pay raise, he lashed outas reprinted in USA Today: On our [DAV] legislative staff, we have three men; all of them are my age. And you know how many legs they have among them? One. One leg between three fine young men. Were talking about some mothers son. And these people [in Congress], a lot of them, they dont understand that, and Im not so sure they care about it. A lot of them just care about some of their pet projects.

Browns uncompromising advocacy of veterans rights won him support in both Republican and Democratic circles, as well as among the nations 27 million veterans and their families.

In the Clinton Cabinet

As executive director of the Disabled American Veterans, Brown presided over a staff of 320 employees representing some two million veterans with a wide variety of combat-related disabilities. After having considered the Veterans Affairs Department something of an adversary for nearly two decades, it was a pleasant shock for Brown when he was asked by Clinton to run that massive agency, with its 260,000 employees and $34.3 billion dollar budget. Browns confirmation hearing for the cabinet position before a congressional committee went smoothly, and he took over as secretary of Veterans Affairs early in 1993.

He did not inherit an easy task. The Department of Veterans Affairs handles a wide array of duties, from providing pensions, compensation payments, and death benefits to veterans and spouses to offering funds for education, rehabilitation, home loan guarantees, and burial for service people. The agency also administers the massive veterans hospital system, a $13.8 billion-a-year enterprise, including 128 government nursing homes, 350 clinics, and 171 medical centers. Recent studies have shown that budget cuts and the aging of the World War II veteran population have severely strained many Veterans Affairs programs, especially the hospital network. Brown has stepped in with the goal of improving medical treatment for all veterans at the same time that the nation in general is seeking to curb medical costs. Billy Kirby, a former staff member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, told USA Today that he does not envy Brown. I told him I didnt know if I should congratulate him on the appointment or offer my condolences, Kirby said.

Brown lost no time in establishing his agenda as a member of the Clinton cabinet. His first goalwhich he saw as consistent with the presidents overall economic planwas to revitalize the veterans health system by introducing new measures to generate revenues. Brown proposed extending the care offered at veterans hospitals and clinics to any veteran who wished to use the facilities, not just the core group of severely disabled veterans. Brown asked for legislative authority to obtain reimbursements from such government programs as Medicare and Medicaid for treatment at veterans hospitals. He also advocated selling health insurance through the Department of Veterans Affairs to those veterans who did not have other coverage.

Los Angeles Times correspondent G. Martinez commented: If enacted, Browns proposals could bring about a radical transformation of a self-contained health care system that dates back to before the Civil War. For his part, Brown feels the sweeping changes could revitalize the veterans health care system without imposing greater debt on the federal government. Brown told the Washington Post that Veterans Affairs studies had shown that the existing veterans health care program could provide medical care at costs up to 22 percent below private hospitals. He asserted that his suggestions could reap tremendous cost savings in national health care while the VA system could become a laboratory for the wider mandate of health care reform.

Brown has argued his case from a position of power. Named to Hillary Rodham Clintons Health Care Reform Committee in 1993, he has devoted a great deal of time to studying the possibility of extending VA health care benefits to more veterans while preparing the Veterans Affairs department to share in the widespread federal budget cuts. Brown also wants to devise additional programs to benefit homeless and drug-dependent veterans. Brown told the Los Angeles Times: Its my job to make sure that veterans are not adversely impacted in the nations effort to balance the budget. We want to do our part, but we would want [the veterans budget] evaluated equally, across the board.

Married and the father of two grown children, Jesse Brown lives in Warrenton, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. The cabinet secretary told the Chicago Tribune that he harbors no bitterness over his combat-related disability, nor does he resent thoselike President Clintonwho openly opposed the Vietnam War. I think [opposition to the war] saved many, many lives, he said. We lost over 58,000 people there, over 300,000 wounded, and in retrospect, you have to ask yourself, for what? He added: If it hadnt been for people who had a moral and philosophical opposition to the war, it could have been 200,000 dead. It could have been 600,000 wounded. In this era of peace, it is up to Jesse Brown to address the needs of those men and women who dedicated partor allof their lives to military duty.

Sources

Black Enterprise, March 1993, p. 78.

Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1992, p. 22; December 26, 1992, p. 10.

Ebony, May 1993, p. 64.

Los Angeles Times, February 8, 1993, p. A-1.

New York Times, December 18, 1992, p. 32.

USA Today, January 7, 1993, p. A-8.

Washington Post, March 6, 1993, p. A-4.

Anne Janette Johnson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Brown, Jesse 1944–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 10 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Brown, Jesse 1944–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/brown-jesse-1944

"Brown, Jesse 1944–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/brown-jesse-1944