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Senate unanimously approves choice for Veterans Affairs secretary

Robert McDonald is the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble and served in the Army, reaching the rank of captain.

New York Times

Robert McDonald is the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble and served in the Army, reaching the rank of captain.

WASHINGTON — Robert McDonald, President Barack Obama's choice to lead the tarnished Department of Veterans Affairs, was unanimously confirmed Tuesday by the Senate.

McDonald, former chief executive of Procter & Gamble and a West Point graduate, is the eighth VA secretary nominee to be unanimously approved by the Senate since the position was created in 1989.

McDonald, 61, of Cincinnati comes from a military family and served five years in the Army, rising to the rank of captain in the 82nd Airborne Division.

McDonald also spent 33 years at P&G, an experience many senators say will be a boon for leading the vast bureaucracy and restoring accountability to the veterans health care system.

McDonald promised to fix the "systematic failures" at the agency and take a series of immediate actions within his first 90 days to deliver prompt and necessary reforms.

He said improving patient access to health care is a top priority, along with restoring transparency, accountability and integrity to the VA.

"This is the type of leader we need at the VA at this very crucial time," said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

McDonald's approval came less than a month after Obama tapped him to replace Eric Shinseki, who resigned after an audit found that veterans had to wait months for medical appointments and VA medical centers were covering up the delays.

Senators from both sides of the aisle lined up Tuesday to tout McDonald's accomplishments and appeared to be eager to install him at the helm of the agency.

"It certainly seems clear to me that Mr. McDonald is the right person to lead the VA," said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., adding that McDonald was "capable of restoring hope in veterans so they can trust the agency, the department, that was created for their benefit."

Veterans service groups lauded the Senate's approval, and many emphasized that McDonald's confirmation was not the final step in the long path of VA reform.

"Secretary McDonald is inheriting a VA in crisis," said John Stroud, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. "But he also inherits a VA that is worth saving."

Lawmakers used the floor debate time Tuesday to push consideration of legislation they say is needed, along with the leadership change, to reform the agency.

The proposed bill, which was approved by a joint conference committee late Monday, allocates roughly $17 billion in emergency funds to overhaul the VA system and grants McDonald new authority to fire or demote senior officials for poor performance and dishonesty.

The legislation is expected to be formally approved by the House and Senate this week before lawmakers leave for their August break.

"We are at a very important moment," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on the Senate floor. "It seems to me that if this nation stands for anything, it must protect and defend those who protected and defended us."

Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said that despite the steep cost, he is confident he can sell the bill to fellow Republicans, including tea party members.

But Rep. Tim Huelskamp., R-Kan., a tea party favorite and a member of the House veterans panel, said "throwing money at the VA won't solve their problem," adding "a fundamental change in culture and real leadership from the president on down is the only way to provide the quality, timely care our veterans deserve."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Senate unanimously approves choice for Veterans Affairs secretary 07/29/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 10:37pm]
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