Robert McDonald said that, if confirmed to oversee the department, he would take action on reforms during his first 90 days in office.

Robert McDonald said that, if confirmed to oversee the department, he would take action on reforms during his first 90 days in office. Associated Press

Does the Next VA Secretary Face an Impossible Task?

Senators have a long to-do list for nominee Robert McDonald, expecting him to succeed where his predecessors have failed.

As President Obama's pick to lead the embattled Veterans Affairs Department out of its current crisis, Robert McDonald faces a tall order from the senators who will decide his fate.

Members of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee insist that McDonald will need to overhaul the VA at once if he is confirmed. That includes everything from installing new leadership and transforming its culture to restoring accountability and ensuring that veterans receive prompt medical treatment.

"How does the VA—among other things—provide timely, quality health care?" committee Chairman Bernie Sanders of Vermont said in an interview just ahead of McDonald's confirmation hearing Tuesday. "How do we continue ... lowering the claims backlog? How do we make sure that the numbers that are coming out are accurate? How do we develop accountability at the VA? ... These are very difficult issues."

McDonald said that, if confirmed to oversee the department, he would take action on reforms during his first 90 days in office, telling lawmakers that he "will put the veteran at the center of everything we do." 

The VA has been under fire in recent months after allegations of data manipulation at its medical facility in Phoenix that included reports of veterans dying while waiting for care.

Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson told lawmakers late last week that investigations into roughly 70 VA facilities are not expected to wrap up until mid-August.

Committee ranking member Richard Burr of North Carolina told McDonald that if he is confirmed, "it will be essential that you embrace the findings of these investigations."

The major hurdles McDonald faces are proving that the VA is being held accountable for its misdeeds and can turn itself around immediately by taking care of the millions of veterans under its charge, committee members stressed Tuesday.

"The biggest challenge is obviously getting the system nationally to be able to deliver much more rapid-response health care to our veterans," Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska said in an interview shortly before McDonald's hearing. "Second, I think he has a culture within the VA that he has to move kind of into this 21st century of how to respond to this very complicated health care delivery system that we have."

Begich added that McDonald faces not just a budget issue, but a recruitment challenge of hiring more doctors and other essential health care professionals.

"He has to kind of rebuild that image, rebuild that trust, and be able to deliver health care in a much more expedited way to veterans across the country."

Getting the American people—veterans in particular—to trust the VA must be his first order of business, some senators said. They added that this will require a significant housecleaning.

"First and foremost, making sure the information is accurate and truthful, getting good information" would be McDonald's top challenge, said Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. "Second, changing the culture. Bringing tough standards to bear and making sure that they are met. And third, changing the people—making sure that there is new leadership and that they are part of the new culture."

Despite the laundry list of demands, McDonald is expected to have a smooth confirmation process. A handful of Republican senators--often tough critics of the VA--told McDonald that his confirmation is all but guaranteed. Lawmakers are hopeful that he can use the managerial skills he honed in the private sector—including during a stint as the CEO of Procter & Gamble—to whip the department into shape. 

If confirmed, McDonald will replace Eric Shinseki, who stepped down as secretary in late May amid growing allegations of misconduct at VA offices across the country. Sloan Gibson has served as acting secretary since then. 

But the scandal goes beyond the VA's health administration. On the other side of Capitol Hill, House Veterans' Affairs Committee members—led by Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida—are looking into allegations that disability-claims workers cooked the books or destroyed information. Whistleblowers across the VA have come forward and testified before Congress about allegations of retaliation. 

Linda Halliday, the assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations, told lawmakers last week that the VA's Office of Inspector General is investigating data-integrity complaints with VA claims at its offices in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Oakland, Houston, and Little Rock, Ark.

And though lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have missed little opportunity to criticize the embattled department, legislation that would provide extra funding and allow veterans greater access to private health care is stuck in a conference committee, with no break in the logjam in sight.

In a bit of political football, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has blamed Republicans on the conference committee, saying they are unwilling to provide extra funding for veterans, despite supporting the recent wars.

But with the monthlong August recess looming, Sanders and Miller have said they were still hopeful an agreement could still be reached, despite the "tough negotiations."

NEXT STORY: The Power of Two

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.