20 veterans groups petition for McDonald to remain VA secretary
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 14, 2016
WASHINGTON — Leaders of 20 veterans groups are appealing to President-elect Donald Trump to retain Bob McDonald as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In a letter sent to Trump on Wednesday, the groups said the veterans community “cannot afford to start over” on a transformation of the VA that McDonald has initiated in his two years in the post. They noted McDonald’s “MyVA” reform program, which has been touted as improving veterans’ trust in the agency.
“We decided to come together, we decided to lead on this, because we’re committed to helping President-elect Trump succeed,” said Bill Rausch, director of the nonprofit Got Your 6. “We looked at all the candidates and our conclusion was that Bob McDonald was the best to move forward to reform the VA.”
The letter was sent days after the country’s six largest veterans organizations met with Trump’s transition team. During the meeting, leaders with the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, American Veterans and Disabled Veterans of America told transition officials that they would not support two candidates for VA secretary: former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Pete Hegseth, former executive of conservative-leaning Concerned Veterans for America.
The six groups on Tuesday discussed requesting a face-to-face meeting with Trump to talk about his pick for secretary and other priorities for VA reform, said Joe Chenelly, director of American Veterans.
Trump had filled all but two of his Cabinet posts as of Wednesday afternoon. The positions remaining were secretaries of the VA and agriculture.
Besides Brown and Hegseth, names floated for VA Secretary have included retiring Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin. Trump’s transition team has not confirmed who is being considered.
Rausch said the 20 groups that sent the letter preferred McDonald because of his commitment to “putting veterans first.” He also noted McDonald’s experience as former CEO of Procter & Gamble as an asset.
“He’s not driven by politics, and he’s not a politician himself,” Rausch said. “The other piece is he’s also the most qualified person we’ve ever had as secretary of the VA. If we’re really going to reform the VA, which everyone wants to do, we need someone who has run a massive organization before, and he’s the only candidate with that experience.”
In addition to Got Your 6, the groups that signed onto the letter were: American Veterans, Community Solutions, Give an Hour, Institute for Veterans & Military Families, Marine Corps Reserve Association, Military Chaplains Association, Military Child Education Coalition, National Association of Drug Court Professionals, National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations, National Military Family Association, Points of Light, Service Women’s Action Network, The 6th Branch, The Mission Continues, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Travis Manion Foundation, Veteran Artist Program, Warrior-Scholar Project and Wounded Warrior Project, Inc.
Transition officials did not respond to a request for comment on whether Trump would consider keeping McDonald in the post.
At least two members of the transition team are linked to Concerned Veterans for America, which has been highly critical of the VA and McDonald.
“The big takeaway is there are some veterans groups out there trying to draw a line in the sand,” Rausch said. “It’s been divisive. Our perspective represented in this letter, from nonpartisan groups, is ensuring that the VA continues to be reformed. We’re committed to that. We’re not here to play politics.”
VA Secretary Bob McDonald testifies at a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the Commission on Care Report, Sept. 14, 2016, on Capitol Hill. Next to him is Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin. Large veterans groups have applauded the progress the VA has made since the appointment of McDonald.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES