Getting the VA secretary nominee right for veterans
MilitaryTimes| by David Shulkin
The Senate must confirm the right person to be secretary of the VA. The leader of the government’s second-largest agency, with over 400,000 employees, is a complex job, but more important it is their responsibility to honor the nation’s commitment to those who have sacrificed for the country.
President-elect Biden understands this responsibility. I know that there are few issues closer to his heart than our country’s commitment to those who serve. It’s personal for him. It’s about looking out for their safety and welfare while they are abroad and when they come back home. We have witnessed it with his actions, heard it in the way he talks about his son, and seen it with a list he holds pressed against his heart wherever he goes.
The president-elect has nominated Denis McDonough for this important job. McDonough is an experienced leader who is capable of taking on this role. I worked with him when he was White House chief of staff and I know his passion and commitment to ensure our veterans and military families get the care they have earned.
As the first non-veteran secretary to serve at VA, I know how important it was to work closely with veterans, and veteran organizations, to ensure that I understood how to lead the agency. I know McDonough, too, shares this respect for those who have served. I am confident he has the character and skills to represent our nation’s veterans well.
While there has been much progress in recent years, significant reforms are needed at VA. Too many veterans continue to struggle to get the benefits they deserve and veterans with toxic exposures such as those who are suffering from Agent Orange and burn pits, continue to wait for help. The VA health system requires modernization of its’ facilities, its processes, and the systems supporting those working to serve veterans. Too many veterans are taking their life by suicide and many others face barriers in getting the right care in the community. The department needs a leader capable to implement major reforms, not just incremental improvements.
The secretary of VA requires a person able to get things done in Washington. It requires a person who will represent veterans and their families, inspires the workforce, collaborates with community groups, and navigates the complexity of Congress and the executive branch. McDonough knows how to work in these environments and use every lever of government to get things done. His experience is what is needed and will benefit veterans.
I was first appointed to serve in the Department of Veterans Affairs as the under secretary of Veterans Affairs for health in 2015 by President Obama. President Trump then nominated me to become his secretary of Veterans Affairs after he assumed office in 2017 — it was my honor to accept.
I say this because, while our country has suffered from a deep partisan divide over the past four years, there is one issue that has and must stay above the fray: our solemn duty to protect and care for our nation’s veterans and their families.
McDonough not only has the management skills to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, but he cares about our veterans and their families. He has seen firsthand the costs of war and understands the ripple effect they impose. Importantly, he will have the confidence and support of the president.
Our service members and their families sacrifice every day to protect us. It is our duty to do the same for them. They should never have to worry about whether they can get the care and benefits they need and deserve, and if they’ll be able to put food on the table or a roof over their head.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is there to work for veterans and their families, and McDonough is the right man to ensure it does. The Senate should vote to confirm Denis McDonough to be our nation’s next secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FRA.