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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

Farewell to BVA Chairman James P. Terry
Washington, DC
February 22, 2011

Good morning, everyone. Thank you all for joining us as we farewell Chairman Jim Terry. Let me acknowledge some special guests who have joined us this morning:

  • [Former VA] Secretary Principi: Tony, thank you for coming. We’re glad you could be here today;
  • Deputy Secretary Scott Gould, Chief of Staff John Gingrich, Under Secretaries Randy Petzel, Acting Under Secretaries Steve Muro and Mike Walcoff, and other members of the current VA leadership team;
  • Former VA Under Secretaries Dan Cooper and Mike Kussman;
  • Members and staff of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals;
  • Representatives of our Veteran Service Organizations;
  • Most importantly, Jim and Mikki Terry and their family—daughter Kristin and her husband, Richard Abati, and their son, Matthew;
  • Fellow Veterans, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Jim Terry’s retiring from federal service for the second time, and we are all honored to be able to say thank-you to Jim and Mikki and their family, and to wish Jim Godspeed—but not farewell. Even after 42 years, we’re not quite sure we won’t see him again in government service. He is that respected, his counsel is that valued, and the love for him is quite remarkable, even for a Marine. Loving father, devoted husband, close confidant to a Secretary of State, respected colleague to many, esteemed judge, eminent scholar, combat leader. If that were not enough, he also belongs to the Red Sox Nation. Jim, I feel it in my bones—it’s going to be a great year for Boston.

Raised in East Brookfield, Massachusetts, Jim camped out on the lawn at the University of Virginia on a Naval ROTC scholarship. Upon graduation in 1968, he was commissioned in the Marine Corps and went to Vietnam as a platoon commander.  

About halfway through that deployment with 1st battalion, 3rd Marines, Jim took part in “Operation Virginia Ridge,” a brigade-sized clearing operation along the Demilitarized Zone. Over a hundred Marines died in that operation, and nearly 500 were wounded, including Jim Terry, who was shot twice, breaking his back, leaving him with no feeling in his legs. In time, the nerves re-knitted themselves and feeling returned. After 14 months in a hospital bed, Jim was boarded for a medical discharge. He fought to remain in the Corps and persuaded the Marines to send him to law school.

Jim is a legend among Marine judge advocates general. They call him “the Big Kahuna”—because he was a “wizard” at getting things done, a heavy hitter who could clear obstacles that stymied lesser folks, and a deep thinker with high standards. What was good enough for most everyone else usually didn’t meet “the Jim Terry standard.”

Jim was as tough as any Marine, but he was also compassionate and helpful—always looking for ways to help people, whether in the office with some thorny legal problem or in the parking lot with a flat tire.  

While unaccompanied in Okinawa, Jim established a hospitality room in his quarters called the “Dog’s Breath Inn”— a makeshift bar with a few chairs, a table for playing poker, and a wall on which guests were invited to scribble or draw. It was a place for JAG officers to relax, strengthen camaraderie and teamwork, and maybe even learn a thing or two about the law.

As a colonel on his final tour of active duty, Jim served as legal counsel to General Colin Powell, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was a relationship that would rekindle itself in the following years.

Retirement from the Corps in 1995, took Jim Terry to the Department of the Interior where he served as Deputy Director of the Office of Hearings and Appeals, and then as a judge on the Board of Land Appeals. After six years of hard, productive work, which included numerous professional articles in the law review, he was recruited in 2001, to re-join his old boss, Colin Powell, who had been confirmed as Secretary of State.

Jim’s extensive knowledge of international law came into play as Deputy Assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Regional, Global, and Functional Affairs.

Jim was also part of a small team of former military officers that Powell brought in to help improve staffing procedures, develop leadership, and mentor younger staff members. He took an office of 26 legislative management officers and built a close-knit, high-performing team that produced their best work for him.  

It didn’t hurt that Jim had the ear of the Secretary as both a trusted attorney and confidant. But he didn’t limit himself to legal advice—he was also very involved with State’s legislative office helping to draft and improve legislative proposals and responses to members.

In 2005, Judge Terry was nominated and confirmed as Chairman of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. A bit of perspective: New disability claims have more than doubled in the past 10 years, to an expected 1.45 million new claims this year. The number of BVA judges has not doubled in that time frame. This year, the board’s 60 Veterans law judges will decide about 50,000 appeals—over 800 appeals per judge.

From the start, Jim set his sights on both increasing productivity and improving accuracy. He recognized that you have to do both.

Over the past five years, Chairman Jim Terry has dramatically improved BVA’s productivity and improved accuracy from 89% in 2005 to 94% last year—more, faster, and better decisions. How did he do it? The Jim Terry standard: Get into the mission, identify mission critical tasks, lay out standing procedures, pin each rose on someone, and take care of your people.

  • He created a permanent training office to implement new training, including joint training with VBA;
  • He instituted a student loan repayment program as a hiring incentive;
  • He reached out to VSOs and helped them provide better service to Veterans;  
  • He forged a relationship with the Court of Appeals of Veterans Claims (CAVC) and with its bar; and
  • He founded the Veterans Law Review, which has just published its third issue and is now seeing its articles cited in other law journals.

He took care of his people, and they took care of the mission.

Jim’s a voracious reader with a restless mind—always reading, always thinking, always writing. Whether at home or at work, you’ll often find him at the computer. He’s a legal scholar with four academic degrees:

  • A bachelors in geo-chemistry from UVA;
  • A law degree from Mercer University;
  • A master of laws with highest honors from the George Washington University, and
  • A doctor of juridical science, also from GW.

He has authored more than two dozen studies and articles on coercion control and national security law. He has two books scheduled for publication this year, one by the Naval Institute Press on the War on Terror, and another by the National Defense University on presidential authority.

With his skills, knowledge, and attributes, he could have made a lot of money in the private sector, but Jim Terry has dedicated his life to the service of others—the Marine Corps, the Nation, and the Nation’s Veterans.

Jim Terry is the recipient of numerous State and Defense Department awards for dedicated and meritorious service. I am guessing that the ones most important to him are the Bronze Star for valor in combat, the Purple Heart for having felt the sting of battle, and the Combat Action Ribbon. These awards define his service with some of the finest Americans to have ever worn the American uniform.

Jim, thank you for your devotion to Veterans and your dedication to VA. Your service and leadership has immeasurably bettered every organization you signed on with. Countless Veterans are your beneficiaries. Their lives reflect the dignity and respect they sought through the appeals process, and you did not disappoint them, or us. Thank you personally for the education and support you provided me when I arrived and over the past two years. I am sorry to see you leave and will miss your counsel. 

None of us does any of these jobs alone. I would like to acknowledge Mikki Terry’s own significant contributions to Jim’s accomplishments. Mikki is also a scholar, a former professor of English at George Washington University, and former deputy director of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Mikki, thank you for sharing Jim with us for the past five-and-a-half years. Without the love and support of our spouses and families, none of us would be able to serve the way we do. Your support of Jim has made possible his extraordinary achievements on behalf of Veterans. We know how much you love him because you’ve allowed him to recreate the “Dog’s Breath Inn” at your home on the Potomac—albeit separate from the main house.

God bless you both and your family as you turn yet another page in your lives together. You will both be long remembered here at VA. See you at Fenway! Thank you.