By Martin Matishak - 06/30/14 05:45 PM EDT
President Obama’s choice to lead the Veterans Affairs Department promised Monday to remake the troubled agency to provide better, faster care to the nation’s veterans.
“We’ll get it done,” Robert McDonald told Obama after his introduction at VA headquarters.
The former Procter & Gamble executive said that the president had made clear what he expects: an agency that is “more effective, more efficient and truly puts our veterans first.”
If confirmed as VA secretary, McDonald, a 1975 West Point graduate who served five years in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, would inherit an agency that has been plagued for months by scandals over patient wait times and falsified data, often in the name of reaping bonuses from the department.
“That’s the only reason we’re here,” he said.
Before introducing McDonald, the president called the fraudulent behavior unearthed by a VA inspector general report and subsequent White House-backed reviews of the agency’s medical network “inexcusable.”
“Where we find misconduct it will be punished,” Obama said.
He rattled off a list of steps the administration has taken since the poor treatment was exposed, including contacting 135,000 veterans who had been kept off official patient rolls at VA hospitals and clinics around the country.
The president noted that the VA’s previous 14-day goal to get a veteran in to see a doctor had been eliminated and that all bonuses for senior managers had been frozen, saying Americans were “rightly appalled."
Obama praised McDonald as “one of the nation’s most accomplished business leaders and managers,” citing the 33 years he spent at Procter & Gamble, a Fortune 500 company.
McDonald, whose father served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, is “no-nonsense, pragmatic and he does not seek the limelight,” the president said.
He cited a Japanese saying: “’He who climbs Mount Fuji is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool,’” before noting that McDonald had lived in Japan for several years and had actually climbed the mountain.
“Bob is a wise man,” Obama joked.
Still, the president warned, “this is not going to be an easy assignment.” He said the federal government must “regain the trust of our veterans.”
“When it comes to delivering timely quality healthcare, we have to do better ... I’m confident we can do that,” Obama said.