President Obama formally nominated Bob McDonald, the former chief executive of Procter & Gamble and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, to be the next secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Monday.
In choosing McDonald, the president has opted to put the scandal-plagued agency in the hands of a longtime businessman rather than the generals, doctors or politicians that have previously run the VA. McDonald will have to work quickly to overhaul the system, which has come under fire for long wait times and mismanagement at facilities across the country. Some of those incidents are believed to have led to the preventable deaths of veterans.
"Bob is an expert in making organizations better. In his career he's taken over struggling business units, he knows how to roll up his sleeves and get to work....in short, he's about delivering better results," Mr. Obama said.
"My bottom line is this: we've got to change the way VA does business," he added.
Mr. Obama also offered an update to the ongoing investigation into VA facilities across the country. He pledged that the people responsible for manipulating or falsifying records are being held accountable, the administration has reached out to 135,00 veterans waiting for care, and they are pursuing reforms such as removing the 14-day scheduling goal to remove any incentive to meddle with wait times.
If confirmed by the Senate, McDonald will replace Eric Shinseki, who resigned in May after public revelations that several veterans at the VA facility in Phoenix had died while awaiting care. It was later revealed that officials there were falsifying waiting lists to understate the amount of time some veterans had waited to receive care. Deputy VA secretary Sloan Gibson is acting as VA secretary until Shinseki's replacement is confirmed.
The scandal only spread in the weeks between reports about the Phoenix hospital and Shinseki's resignation, which was demanded by both Democrats and Republicans. An internal audit by the VA completed in May also found roughly 1,700 veterans who were not on any wait list in the Phoenix facility, leaving them at risk of falling through the cracks of the scheduling process.
Just last Friday, Rob Nabors, the White House aide who oversaw a review of the VA scandal for the president, submitted a report decrying the "corrosive" management culture at the agency that led to "significant and chronic failures" in the provision of medical care to veterans.
The White House has said that McDonald's experience running Procter & Gamble, a company with more than 120,000 employees and annual sales that reached more than $84 billion during his four-year term at the head of the company, will prepare him for managing the VA. The agency serves more than 8 million veterans each year.
"Having the kind of management style that inspires other people in an organization to assume leadership skills is something that based on the problems that have been unearthed at the VA will be really critical to their success over there as well," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday.
They have also emphasized his deep connections to the U.S. military. McDonald graduated in the top two percent of his class at West Point and served in the U.S. Army for five years, achieving the rank of Captain in the 82nd Airborne Division.
McDonald emphasized that his own family members rely on the VA for care, and pledged to fulfill the president's goal of a VA that is more effective, efficient and puts veterans first.
"We need to put care for the veteran at the center of everything we do at Veterans Affairs," he said.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised McDonald as, "a good man, a veteran, and a strong leader with decades of experience in the private sector" in a statement released Sunday.
"With those traits, he's the kind of person who is capable of implementing the kind of dramatic systemic change that is badly needed and long overdue at the VA," Boehner said, although he also called on Mr. Obama to outline a larger vision of reform for the agency.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said the VA needs "significantly improved transparency and accountability and it needs an increased number of doctors, nurses and other medical staff so that all eligible veterans get high-quality health care in a timely manner," in a statement about McDonald's nomination.
"I look forward to meeting with Mr. McDonald next week in order to ascertain his views on these important issues," Sanders said.
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the top Republican on the committee, said the agency "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." He also said he was looking forward to hearing from McDonald during his confirmation hearings.