WASHINGTON -- President Reagan announced Monday he has nominated Harry Walters, an assistant secretary of the Army, to be the chief of the Veterans Administration, succeeding Robert Nimmo.
White House aides indicated during the past few weeks that Walters, 46, had been picked for the post. But before the nomination was official it ran into a snag on Capitol Hill where Veterans Affairs Committee legislators complained they had not been consulted.
Nimmo resigned in October after a turbulent tenure in which he was criticized of being unsympathetic to the needs of Vietnam veterans and accused of a government chauffeur for his personal use.
Walters, who will face Senate confirmation, was criticized by Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C, when he was appointed to the Pentagon post for serving only four years in the Army after graduating from West Point in 1959.
Walters said he left the service for a business career to support his family.
Thurmond and Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., were critical of the lack of prior consultation before Reagan made his choice.
Simpson, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, is out of the country, but an aide said the senator did not plan to obstruct the nomination, but would keep an open mind pending hearings. The aide said confirmation should be completed before Congress adjourns in mid-December.
Simpson had lobbied for the appointment of committee staff director Thomas Harvey, and expressed anger that Harvey had not been interviewed at the time the Walters nomination was first talked about. Since then, Harvey was interviewed for the job.
Thurmond, second ranking Republican on the panel said of Walters, 'He has the education and experience to fill the position and I'll support the nomination.'
Walters said through a spokesman, 'I am deeply honored that President Reagan has nominated me for the post of administrator of veterans affairs. I will reserve further comment until such time as the Senate acts upon the president's nomination.'
Walters has been serving as assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs since June 1981. He formerly served as president of Potsdam Paper Corp. in Potsdam, N.Y., and with other paper companies in Dayton, Ohio, and Richmond, Va.
While at West Point Walters played fullback on Army's last undefeated football team and was mentioned for All-America honors.
The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, with 4.5 million members between them, welcomed Walters' nomination while at the same time urging that he uphold the interests of veterans.
Mylia Kraja, executive director of the Legion's Washington office said recently that he had met Walters and 'was quite impressed.'
'We look forward to working with him and he understands we are a consumer advocate and will take the initiative to call to his attention areas of our concern in health care and other services for veterans.'
James Currieo, national commander of the VFW, said, 'We note with optimism the nomination of Walters. We remind him that we ask him to make a commitment to veterans the same way the president did.'
Currieo added, 'We also remind Mr. Walters that if he is confirmed by the Senate, that our organization means to hold the president, through him, responsible for veterans' concerns.'