Governor Jerry Brown’s new chief at the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet), Dr. Vito Imbasciani, is a musicologist, LGBT activist, aspiring politician, former hospital administrator, surgeon and 27-year military veteran who deployed overseas four times in two wars.
He speaks six languages: English, Spanish, German, Italian, French and Arabic.
Imbasciani, 69, graduated with an undergraduate degree from New York State University, where he was a student member of the American Musicological Society council (pdf) in 1971-72. He graduated with a Masters (1974) and a Ph.D. (1975) in musicology from Cornell University.
Imbasciani attended University of Vermont College of Medicine from 1981 to 1985, graduating with a Doctor of Medicine (MD). He did his internship and residency in urologic surgery at Yale University School of Medicine from 1985 to 1989.
The doctor joined the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1986 as a surgeon and continued with them for 27 years. He is a retired colonel. During that time, he was state surgeon for the California Army National Guard (2004-2014) and a urologic surgeon for Southern California Permanente Medical Group (1997-present).
Imbasciani, a Democrat, became director of government relations at Permanente medical group in 2004 and held that position when tapped by Brown.
Imbasciani is gay and had been in the military for eight years when the Clinton Administration made “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) official military policy. The doctor was not a public gay activist until asked by the Obama White House to introduce the president, who had heard his personal story, at an LGBT fund-raising event in Los Angeles in 2012.
Imbasciani said, “Until last year, the price of my service was to live a lie. Thanks to the unyielding efforts of President Obama I can serve my country openly with my family by my side.” Imbasciani and his partner, Dr. George DiSalvo, have two adopted children of Mexican descent. DADT was officially ended on September 20, 2011.
In 2014, Imbasciani ran for the 26th District state Senate seat in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County vacated by now-Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu. He was relatively well-funded in the crowded jungle primary and was apparently well regarded, but finished with just 4.4% of the vote.
“An interesting character is the doctor, Vito,” Democratic strategist Hal Dash told the Daily Breeze in Torrance. “He’s got a lot of money. He has a nice story. But you can’t pronounce his last name—that’s hard sometimes in a campaign. I’ve seen that in a lot of campaigns—shouldn’t be a factor but it is.”
Sandra Fluke, who first became known after entertainer Rush Limbaugh repeatedly called the Georgetown University law student a “slut” and a “prostitute” on his radio show, and eventual winner Ben Allen advanced to the general election. Allen, a Democrat, won the runoff.
Imbasciani’s new job requires state Senate confirmation and pays $188,451 a year. He replaces Peter Gravett, who retired in December after leading the department for three and a half years.