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VA nominee clears first Senate hurdle

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday endorsed former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald to be the new secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The panel's unanimously vote came one day after a nomination hearing in which he faced no opposition.

Senators said they are eager for McDonald to begin work at the beleaguered agency, which has been plagued by treatment delays and falsified records at VA hospitals and clinics nationwide.

McDonald, 61, of Cincinnati, has pledged to "transform" the VA and address a series of "systematic failures," including patient access to health care, transparency, accountability and integrity. He told the Senate panel that if confirmed by the Senate, he will take a series of actions over his first 90 days "to deliver the needed reforms our veterans deserve."

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McDonald plans to lay out a veteran-centered vision for the department and improve communication within the vast agency, which includes more than 300,000 employees in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, he said. His plan includes frequent video conferences with employees and extensive travel to field offices around the country.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, the chairman of the Senate veterans panel, said the full Senate could vote on McDonald's nomination as soon as this week.

"Mr. McDonald brings us two very important qualities," Sanders said. "No. 1, he is familiar with the military because he served for many years and he brings a passion to take care of our veterans. The other quality that he brings is that he has been the CEO of a major American corporation and that experience gives him the tools to create a well-run and accountable VA."

Many Americans agree with Sanders--a poll out this week shows most people believe the country would be better governed by people with business and management experience.

Sanders stated that beyond McDonald's confirmation, he hopes Congress passes legislation soon to "give the new secretary the resources to reform the VA and provide quality, timely health care for veterans."

The Senate approved a bill last month authorizing $35 billion through 2016 to build new clinics, hire doctors and make it easier for veterans who can't get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care. The measure closely tracks a bill passed by the House, but lawmakers have balked at the Senate measure's price tag.

Congressional budget analysts project it could end up costing the government about $38 billion a year - almost as much as the $44 billion the government now spends annually on medical care for veterans.

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