The Trenches at Home: The Secretary is Resigned, Long Live the Secretary
Shortly before 3 p.m. Eastern today the Senate began a vote to confirm the new secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. His unanimous confirmation* was all but assured after the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs sent his nomination to the floor less than a week ago. The committee, according to POLITICO, “backed former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald 14-0.” A simple majority was needed to pass and McDonald received that less than 15 minutes after the vote began, as Senators entered the almost-deserted chamber to cast their votes.
This is good news for everyone, except perhaps for Secretary McDonald. The veteran and former corporate executive takes the helm of a ship plagued with scandal and “facing a criminal probe from the FBI over reports that nearly 60,000 veterans have waited more than three months for medical treatment.” While many could blame the crippling weight of government bureaucracy, an internal report from Sloan Gibson, the interim VA secretary, blamed the “corrosive culture” within the VA itself for the problems.
Yet, that broken culture in the VA is precisely why President Obama went with Secretary McDonald. He is a graduate of West Point and a veteran of the U.S. Army, but most of his time has been spent in the private sector. It is the hope of this administration, and by extension all veterans and their families, that McDonald’s experience will bring about a new paradigm for the beleaguered agency.
However, any fixes McDonald may have in mind will certainly take time to implement. The immediate crisis facing veterans, access to timely care, is still in the hands of the House and the Senate. According to a spokesperson from Sen. Harry Reid’s office, once the House moves on the VA reform bill, which would allow veterans the option to seek private care if the VA is unable to accommodate them, the Senate will schedule a vote. A spokesperson for Sen. Bernie Sanders said that having a vote before the summer recess was the goal and they were not aware of any opposition to it coming to the floor.
*The final vote was 97-0.
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