New faces for VA panel

Senate Democrats and Republicans have announced who will lead the panel tasked with overseeing the Veterans Affairs Department as it emerges from one of the worst scandals in its history.

Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonSenate ethics panel wants details on sexual harassment allegations Senate leaders push tax debate into Friday Senate Ethics Committee opens 'preliminary inquiry' into Franken allegations MORE (R-Ga.) will chair the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the 114th Congress, Senate Republicans announced Monday.

On Friday, Democrats said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) would serve as the panel’s ranking member.

Current VA Chairman Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (I-Vt.) is due to become the ranking member on the Budget Committee next year, while the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSessions argued presidents can obstruct justice in Clinton impeachment trial Trump Jr. to meet with Senate panel amid Russia probe Trump’s Russian winter grows colder with Flynn plea deal MORE (N.C.), is leaving to helm the Intelligence Committee.

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The panel’s new leadership will play a critical role as the VA works to move past a political scandal over patient wait times. The furor raised questions about the Obama administration’s competency and led to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in May.

In response, lawmakers almost unanimously approved a more than $16 billion overhaul of the agency, including $10 billion for veterans to seek medical care at non-VA providers under certain circumstances.

That effort began in earnest last month.

Republican lawmakers have chastised new VA Secretary Robert McDonald for not moving fast enough to use new powers granted through the revamp. Those powers would allow McDonald to fire managers connected to the scandal.

The committee will feature an expanded GOP roster, including incoming lawmakers Bill Cassidy (La.), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska).

Sullivan is a Marine Corps veteran.

Two Democrats currently serving on the panel will be gone when the new Congress is sworn in: Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska) lost his reelection bid and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) retired.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is due to join the panel next year, Democrats said last week.