Biden nominee: VA staff hampered by ‘mismanagement’

Michael Bonfigli of the Christian Science Monitor.

President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Veteran Affairs said the nation’s veterans have been kneecapped by “mismanagement, staff shortfalls, leadership gaps, and IT systems failures” at the agency.

In an op-ed for Military Times released Tuesday, Denis McDonough, the former White House chief of staff under President Obama, pledged to “fight like hell for our veterans,” and work to rebuild trust and restore the VA following years of fraying confidence in the department.

“Our nation’s veterans know how badly this is needed. Long wars have taken their toll on our veterans and their families, and the physical and mental health care services available to veterans have not always kept up,” McDonough wrote. “Moreover, the dedicated men and women who work tirelessly to serve the department have been impeded by mismanagement, staff shortfalls, leadership gaps, and IT systems failures.”

McDonough oversaw staffing changes and policy response to the VA’s 2014 wait time scandal that led to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Biden’s choice surprised many in the veteran community as McDonough would be the second nonveteran to hold the top Veterans Affairs post if confirmed.

But McDonough — who has already reached out to leaders in the top veterans groups — sought to assure skeptics by arguing his “skill set, deep knowledge of government, and executive experience” has prepared him to serve the veteran community.

“I know there are some who wonder if someone who did not serve in the military is qualified to be President-elect Biden’s nominee to lead VA. … I understand the basis for this criticism. Too often, at the VA and at other federal agencies, political appointees have lacked the perspective to adequately understand the needs of the communities they serve. I take that to heart, but with my experience and demonstrated commitment, I will do everything in my power to move heaven and earth to get the job done,” he wrote.

He also pledged to surround himself with a strong team including veterans and to “listen and be open to hearing from every veteran I encounter, so that I am consistently deepening my understanding of their evolving needs.”

McDonough would come into the VA following a scandal involving Secretary Robert Wilkie, who was found to have disparaged a congressional aide who said she was sexually assaulted at a VA facility.

The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of America have all called on the White House to fire Wilkie, saying he had lost the trust of veterans over the conclusions in the bombshell watchdog report and that his actions could prevent people from seeking care from the VA.

Tags Denis McDonough Eric Shinseki Joe Biden Robert Wilkie VA Veterans Affairs

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