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Veterans Department to be led by career banker

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After less than four months at the Veterans Affairs Department, Sloan D. Gibson suddenly finds himself in charge of fixing the problems that led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

“Sloan, I think, would be the first to acknowledge that he's going to have a learning curve that he's got to deal with,” President Barack Obama told reporters Friday after announcing that Gibson would replace Shinseki temporarily.

A career banker, Gibson was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 11 as deputy VA secretary, just weeks before allegations of long waits for doctor's appointments at VA hospitals nationwide led to mounting bipartisan calls by lawmakers and others for Shinseki to resign.

Gibson, 61, came to the department after serving as president and chief executive officer of the USO, the nonprofit organization that provides programs, services and entertainment to U.S. troops and their families. During his five years at the USO, net fundraising grew by 90 percent and paid for an expansion of programs, according to Gibson's bio on the VA website.

“I'm grateful that he is willing to take on this task,” Obama said, noting Gibson's two decades of experience in the private and nonprofit sectors. “He, too, has devoted his life to serving our country and our veterans.”

John I. Pray Jr., the USO's current president and chief executive, said Gibson worked tirelessly during his tenure there to support the changing needs of the military. He called Gibson a “driving force” behind the organization's growth and a “passionate advocate” for active duty service members and veterans.

Obama met with Gibson after he met with Shinseki and accepted his resignation. The president said he had made it clear to Gibson “that reforms should not wait. They need to proceed immediately.”

Before joining the USO, Gibson spent more than 20 years in banking in Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta; Nashville, Tennessee; and Birmingham, Alabama. In 2004, he retired from AmSouth Bancorp., where he was vice chairman and chief financial officer.

His chairmanship of the United Way campaign in central Alabama in 2002 netted more than $30 million for charitable organizations.

Gibson is the son of an Army air corpsman who served as a B-17 tail-gunner during World War II. His grandfather was an Army infantryman who was wounded in World War I while serving in the 3rd Infantry Division at the Second Battle of the Marne.

Gibson is a 1975 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, where he earned airborne and ranger qualifications and served as an Army infantry officer.

He earned a master's degree in economics from the University of Missouri in Kansas City and a master's degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Gibson and his wife, Margaret, have been married for nearly 32 years and have two grown daughters, Celia and Laura.

He will run the department until Obama nominates and the Senate confirms a permanent VA secretary.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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