Meet the Man Now Responsible for Solving the VA Crisis

Robert McDonald got overwhelming bipartisan support during his Senate confirmation vote Tuesday.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 30: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Barack Obama (L) introduces Robert McDonald (R) as his nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. McDonald served as the chief executive of Procter & Gamble and if confirmed will replace Eric Shinseki who resigned after allegations of delayed care came to light. (Photo by Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images)
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
July 29, 2014, 11:18 a.m.

The Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment has a new sec­ret­ary, with sen­at­ors vot­ing 97-0 Tues­day to con­firm Robert Mc­Don­ald.

The strong bi­par­tis­an sup­port for the former Procter & Gamble CEO is hardly a sur­prise. Sen­at­ors from both sides of the aisle lav­ished praise on the nom­in­ee throughout his con­firm­a­tion pro­cess.

“I am con­fid­ent that Bob Mc­Don­ald will be an out­stand­ing sec­ret­ary,” said Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Johnny Isak­son, a fre­quent crit­ic of the de­part­ment, on Tues­day.

But while Mc­Don­ald en­joyed a smooth con­firm­a­tion pro­cess, he is tak­ing over a de­part­ment rocked by scan­dal in re­cent months. Law­makers have high hopes that he’ll be able to use his private-sec­tor ma­na­geri­al ex­per­i­ence to turn the VA around, and they have a long list of places for him to start.

Sen­at­ors ex­pect Mc­Don­ald to over­haul the de­part­ment by fix­ing a “cor­ros­ive cul­ture,” en­sur­ing vet­er­ans get timely ac­cess to care, and mak­ing pro­gress on a myri­ad of oth­er is­sues—in­clud­ing cut­ting pay and pen­sion claims and re­du­cing vet­er­ans’ home­less­ness.

The vote comes as Con­gress is ex­pec­ted to pass le­gis­la­tion this week that would im­prove vet­er­ans’ ac­cess to private health care, al­low the VA to lease more fa­cil­it­ies, and make it easi­er to fire staffers.

Law­makers hope the bill—which a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee signed off on Monday night—will, as Sen­ate Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bernie Sanders said, give Mc­Don­ald “the tools to cre­ate a well-run and ac­count­able VA.”

Mc­Don­ald out­lined his pri­or­it­ies for sen­at­ors last week, in­clud­ing trav­el­ing the coun­try to meet with VA em­ploy­ees and vet­er­ans. He also plans to re­struc­ture met­rics for em­ploy­ees’ eval­u­ations. Vet­er­ans-ser­vice or­gan­iz­a­tions and law­makers have long ques­tioned wheth­er link­ing per­form­ance met­rics to bo­nuses could en­cour­age data ma­nip­u­la­tion.

But it’s un­likely the scan­dal that forced Gen. Eric Shin­seki’s resig­na­tion in late May will go away just be­cause the VA has a new top of­fi­cial. A slate of in­vest­ig­a­tions from the VA Of­fice of In­spect­or Gen­er­al aren’t ex­pec­ted to wrap up un­til mid-Au­gust.

Sen. Jerry Mor­an of Kan­sas said Tues­day that while he has been im­pressed by Mc­Don­ald, he knows “that a change in the lead­er­ship at the De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs in and of it­self isn’t enough to solve the prob­lems vet­er­ans are fa­cing.”

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