Trump VA secretary considerations full of reform-minded candidates
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Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass), and former Concerned Veterans of America Chief Executive Officer Pete Hegseth have been discussed as possible VA Secretary nominees.

These potential candidates have strong practical experience working on VA issues in Congress, and share a similar reform ideology that would focus on making VA care more timely and efficient for veterans.


They encourage those of us Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans that want to see poor-performing federal employees cleaned out of a largely dedicated workforce. And they have the experience to fix a culture of broken bureaucracy which has flourished under the Obama Administration's "status quo" posture.

In 2014, the veteran community was rocked when they woke to the headlines describing the secret waiting list of veterans at the Phoenix VA hospital who had not received care, and the subsequent resignation of then VA Secretary and Retired Gen. Eric ShinsekiEric Ken ShinsekiVA might not be able to end veteran homelessness, but we shouldn't stop trying Bill HR 2333 is a good step to helping curb veteran suicide  Senate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems MORE. Veteran patients died while waiting for care, and the sacred bond between our government and its war veterans was shattered.

President Obama encouraged the veteran community when selecting Secretary Bob McDonald (a well-respected businessman and former Fortune 500 CEO) to step in as the next VA Secretary. Unfortunately, Bob McDonald has done little to improve the Agency’s damaged image. Mr. McDonald has the right experience to fix the VA, but has not been given the authority from the White House to fix the workforce issues, which have plagued this Agency for years.

Secretary McDonald urged this Congress to provide the VA Secretary with firing authority-which would finally provide the needed ability to take the first steps required to meaningful reform After many iterations, when said authority was provided (for example HR 1994 the VA Accountability Act) Secretary McDonald did an "about face" on the issue, and suggested that practice was “heavy handed” and no longer spoke of the need for workforce reform.

I could not understand why this reversal occurred until I noticed the White House issued a Statement of Administration (SAP) (AKA a veto threat) of HR 1994 warning Republicans, and supporting Democrats, not to pass it, making use of stock, union talking points. It then became clear the Administration was behind the VA’s public reluctance to support the needed reform efforts Congress had presented

McDonald could have been successful at fixing the VA had President Obama empowered him to actually fix the workforce issues. 

Nevertheless, we find ourselves faced with an uncertain future at the VA, but with encouraging indications that President-elect Trump may be nominating a strong leader with proven records of reform, to step in. Trump's comments regarding the VA have made it clear he supports removing bad employees, and the days of "VA apologizing", while not fixing the problems they are apologizing for may be over. If President-elect Trump’s nominee is cleared, the problems plaguing the VA in recent history, may finally find resolution.

The major question in American Legion and VFW halls across the nation currently is "who will be the next VA Secretary?”

Congressman Jeff Miller (though not a veteran) has been a passionate advocate for VA reform utilizing his power as House VA Chairman to hold ill-willed leaders accountable, and has championed legislation to protect whistleblowers, provide discipline authority to the Secretary, and has been a fighter for us at a time when Democrats usually respond to VA reform with "we gave the VA more money and the accountability problem is overblown partisan rhetoric".

Senator Scott Brown is a veteran and has endorsed popular reform proposals such as providing private care for Veterans in the event VA is not able to get us in to see a doctor for extended periods of time. Brown has served on the Senate VA committee and has experience substantively working on VA issues and engaging the VA on key issues the veteran community cares about. He has the experience and perspective that we need to actually change the status quo.

Pete Hegseth, is an Army veteran who, despite being much younger than the majority of members of both Congress and the other possible nominees for SECVA, has significantly shaped the reform landscape for the better in Washington. In the last few years many traditional veteran organizations shrugged their shoulders at the reform concepts that Hegseth's former organization, and well-known advocacy group, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) proposed publicly. Now, after a major VA scandal and continuous turmoil at the VA, it seems Pete may have been right from the very beginning in suggesting that VA needs strong firing authority reform to eliminate bad employees, extended private care options for veterans that wait-too long for care, and a new leader that understands these reforms need to get done.

I support these candidates based on their record of service to the VA community, and for taking bold positions on key issues that senior VA leadership and unions staunchly oppose. These nominees believe that veterans, should have our needs prioritized before bureaucrats and unions.

We need a strong leader, and these candidates have the potential to change the destiny of the VA for the better

Christopher Neiweem is an Iraq War veteran, defense and military policy analyst, and executive director of the Neiweem Group, a government affairs firm. He has served as an expert witness in Congress before both House and Senate Committees and regularly appears on radio and television, covering issues that impact the military and veterans population. He has been at the forefront of the biggest negotiations involving veterans benefits in the nation.

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