- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2014

Bob McDonald, the man President Obama nominated Monday to take the helm at the VA, will have to fix quickly what some are calling the nation’s most corrupt bureaucracy — while being under intense pressure from a public shocked by stories of veterans dying stuck on wait lists awaiting care.

Mr. Obama, in nominating the former leader of Procter & Gamble and Army veteran, said his business background makes him uniquely qualified to manage the 340,000-employee Department of Veterans Affairs.

“He knows the key to any successful enterprise is staying focused on the people you’re trying to serve,” Mr. Obama said. “He understands that grand plans are not enough; what matters are the operations you put in place and getting the job done. Bob is an expert at making organizations better.”

Mr. McDonald said he would work to put veterans at the center of every decision at the VA, just as he always put the needs of the customer first while leading Procter & Gamble, which owns brands such as Pampers diapers and Dawn dish soap.

“You’ve made it clear what you expect: a VA that is more effective, more efficient and truly puts our veterans first,” Mr. McDonald said. “If confirmed by the Senate, my priority would be to lead that transformation. My life’s purpose has been to improve the lives of others.”

If the Senate approves him, Mr. McDonald would replace acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who took over when Eric K. Shinseki resigned at the end of May amid a growing scandal. Several investigations have found systemic problems of employees cooking the books at the VA to make wait times appear shorter, thereby securing bonuses for themselves while denying veterans timely care.

Mr. McDonald will have to cut those wait times, but he’ll also be expected to change what some say is a culture within the department that doesn’t put patient care at the top.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs needs a leader that will be able to address the deeply rooted, systemic issues in the organization while also working with Congress to implement legislative solutions and provide oversight,” Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said Monday.

With Congress now fully invested in forcing solutions, the new secretary will need to be transparent and cooperative with Capitol Hill — unlike the current leaders, who have been subpoenaed by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs multiple times in recent months for documents and testimony, said Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the committee.

Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, said he is “optimistic” that Mr. McDonald’s experience at the helm of a major corporation will help him with these tasks, but he will be keeping a close eye to ensure McDonald puts the medical needs of veterans ahead of bonuses or protection for VA employees.

Mr. McDonald will have to fight relentlessly for systemic reform, shake up the senior leadership, fire executives like Phoenix VA head Sharon Helman — who is still on the payroll today — and protect whistleblowers from reprisals if he is to earn our membership’s support,” Mr. Hegseth said.

In addition to protecting whistleblowers, Mr. McDonald will also likely face pressure from lawmakers to pursue a criminal investigation and see if the government can press charges against VA employees.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said he wants to hear whether Mr. McDonald believes there’s a need for more doctors, nurses and other medical staff. Mr. Sanders was a co-author of a Senate bill that would provide $500 million to hire new VA personnel.

House Republicans did not call for hiring more doctors in their bill. Republicans said they don’t want to throw money at the problem.

While fixing the health care system and eliminating wait times will be top priorities for Mr. McDonald, the president also mentioned that he will take on other issues, like the G.I. bill and improving benefits for veterans.

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