Twenty organizations advocating for veterans and military families on Wednesday called on President-elect Donald Trump to retain Bob McDonald as secretary of Veterans Affairs, citing his stable leadership during the largest management transformation in the department’s history.
The groups, which included Got Your 6, AMVETS, and the National Military Family Association, said McDonald’s efforts to modernize the VA are “showing early signs of success in the form of a better veteran experience, and if continued, we believe they have the potential to eventually make VA a model agency.”
The Dec. 14 letter acknowledged that while the pace of reform at the 350,000-person department has been slow, McDonald’s experience, commitment to veterans and management approach make him the best person for the job.
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“Transforming an agency as large and diverse as VA will take a continuous commitment from leadership over the course of many years,” the letter said. “As you make your selection for VA secretary, then, we advocate for an approach that recognizes and builds upon current progress. Given the challenges we face, we cannot afford to start over.”
Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6, a national campaign that aims to dispel myths about vets and empower them to lead in local communities, said the Trump transition team pledged to make sure Trump saw the letter. The VA secretary job is one of the last Cabinet nominations that Trump has left to announce.
“Our sense is that he’s still seriously considering the candidates and weighing all the information,” said Rausch, who believes that McDonald is a serious contender for the job, particularly given McDonald’s long-time experience as CEO of Procter and Gamble.
“One thing we’ve learned from President-elect Trump since he won the election, he is a business person, and he likes to consume information and data,” Rausch said.
The Trump transition team did not respond to questions about the latest letter, or when Trump would announce his VA secretary nominee.
Several names have circulated as possibilities, including former Republican Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and FOX news contributor and former CEO of Concerned Veterans for America Pete Hegseth. A recent New York Times story on other vets’ groups who favor keeping McDonald said that some oppose Brown because they don’t believe he has the experience to lead the government’s second-largest department and the country’s largest integrated health-care system. Hegseth supports a much greater role for the private sector in providing health care to vets, which many veterans and their advocates oppose, believing it will gut the VA health care system.
McDonald, an Army vet and former head of a Fortune 500 company, has led a major management transformation at VA since he got to the department in 2014, a few months after the wait-times scandal erupted. When asked in September during a veterans’ event whether he would stay on as VA secretary during the next administration, McDonald didn’t rule it out. “It’s up to the president of the United States,” he said. “I’d have to discuss it with my family, obviously.”
Rausch, who said that his group is committed to working with the next VA secretary regardless of the nominee, believes that McDonald would stay on in the job, if Trump asked him, because he puts veterans first. “Bob has shown that time and time again,” Rausch said.
“He didn’t need the job or the headaches,” Rausch said, adding that McDonald is a conservative who agreed to serve in a Democratic administration. “He is the most experienced VA secretary that we’ve ever had.”
VA 's press office did not immediately respond to questions about whether McDonald has met with Trump, or whether he would stay on as secretary if asked.
The other groups that signed the Dec. 14 letter were: Community Solutions; Give an Hour; Institute for Veterans and Military Families; Marine Corps Reserve Association; Military Chaplains Association; Military Child Education Coalition; National Association of Drug Court Professionals/Justice for Vets; National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations; Points of Light; Service Women’s Action Network; The 6th Branch; The Mission Continues; Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors; Travis Manion Foundation; Veteran Artist Program; Warrior-Scholar Project; and Wounded Warrior Project Inc.