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Senators call for quick confirmation of 6 VA appointees

STARS AND STRIPES

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 19, 2017

WASHINGTON – The man slated to take the No. 2 spot at the Department of Veterans Affairs said the VA has a trust problem and he wants to fix it.

“While there are significant challenges confronting the VA, I believe one of the most pervasive is regaining the trust of veterans, their families and the American people,” Thomas Bowman told senators Wednesday. “The Phoenix VA Medical Center scandal in 2014, and since then, other scandals associated with an inability to appropriately hold VA employees… accountable for unsatisfactory performance or misconduct, seriously undermined the trust and confidence in the VA.”

Bowman, who now works as the staff director for the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, was nominated by Trump to the position of deputy secretary of the VA – a spot most recently held by Sloan Gibson during the administration of former President Barack Obama.

If confirmed, he will work under VA Secretary David Shulkin to lead the 350,000-employee agency, the second-largest in the federal government.

“Modernizing the VA… working with Congress, [veterans service organizations] and other stakeholders to boldly and aggressively address needs highlighted by each of them will build upon what Trump, Shulkin and the Congress have already started, to hopefully regain that trust,” Bowman said.

He and five other VA appointees were questioned Wednesday during a Senate veterans committee hearing. The committee intends to vote Thursday to send the nominations to the Senate floor for confirmation.

“It’s very important we get these done now so they can get to work,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the committee. “Every day they’re not working, our veterans are not being served, and that’s not good for our country.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the committee, agreed senators needed to expedite the nominations.

“As the VA faces debilitating workforce shortages and tough decisions about veterans’ care and benefits, it’s critically important that we thoroughly and quickly vet nominees to serve at the VA,” he said.

Before working in Congress, Bowman held leadership positions at the VA, including chief of staff. He was also a senior adviser to the director of VA health care in Florida and the Caribbean. He’s a retired Marine Corps colonel and earned degrees from the University of Texas and Western New England College.

“There needs to be some common sense coming out of the department,” Tester said. “I hope you’re the guy to provide that.”

Senators also heard from Brooks Tucker, nominated to be the assistant VA secretary of congressional and legislative affairs. Tucker worked on Trump’s transition team and is now a senior adviser to Shulkin. He was previously a senior policy adviser to Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. He’s a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps.

James Byrne was nominated to be VA’s general counsel. He most recently worked as general counsel and the lead cyber and counterintelligence attorney at Lockheed Martin.

Trump nominated Michael Allen, Amanda Meredith and Joseph Toth to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which hears cases from veterans who think their claims for VA benefits were denied unjustly.

Allen is a law professor and director of the Veterans Law Institute at Stetson University in Gulfport, Florida. Meredith is the deputy staff director and general counsel for the Senate veterans committee and Toth served as a judge advocate in the Navy. In 2011, Toth partnered with prosecutors in Afghanistan to establish rule of law in the district where the Taliban was formed.

The Senate committee is expected to vote on the six nominations Thursday at noon.

wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

 

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