Corporate Executive Tapped to Head VA, Help Restore Veterans’ Trust

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By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON – Robert A. “Bob” McDonald, a West Point graduate who served as chief executive of Procter & Gamble, was nominated last month as secretary of the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs and was expected to be approved by the Senate.

In tapping a corporate executive instead of a retired military leader, as often has occurred in the past, President Barack Obama said his administration was seeking to establish a “new culture of accountability” within the VA, praising McDonald as a man of integrity and calling him “an expert in making organizations better.”

Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson visited the Fayetteville, NC, VA Medical Center in June and met with VA employees, veterans service organizations and the media. It was the third medical facility Gibson visited since taking over as head of VA.

Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson visited the Fayetteville, NC, VA Medical Center in June and met with VA employees, veterans service organizations and the media. It was the third medical facility Gibson visited since taking over as head of VA.

“My bottom line is this,” Obama said. “We’ve got to change the way the VA does business.”

The nomination of McDonald, who is subject to Senate confirmation, received bipartisan support early on. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called him “the kind of person who is capable of implementing the kind of dramatic systemic change that is badly needed and long overdue at the VA.”

If confirmed, McDonald would replace retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, who resigned in late May after a VA inspector general’s report confirmed problems of access and treatment delays for veterans at the Phoenix VA Health Care System.

That report found 1,700 veterans waiting for a primary-care appointment who had not been included on the Phoenix VA Health Care System’s electronic waitlist as required. The VA IG is continuing to investigate allegations there and at other VA facilities.

Obama’s announcement of McDonald’s nomination came only days after a scathing White House review found the VHA needs to be “restructured and reformed.” (See box, this page.)

The VA also announced last month that it has initiated a search for a new VHA chief after VA Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel, MD, stepped down from that position in May.

“This is one of the most important jobs in government today,” said Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson in a written statement. “This is the largest integrated healthcare system in the country. We need a leader who will be a change agent and deliver necessary reforms to provide our veterans timely access to the world-class healthcare they’ve earned and deserve. The expert panel we’ve assembled to recommend our new health chief understands the urgency and the seriousness of the task ahead, and I’m grateful for their efforts.”

VA announced Petzel’s resignation in mid-May, one day after a Senate hearing on the problems at the Phoenix hospital. The announcement of the resignation was criticized by lawmakers, however, because his scheduled retirement in 2014 had previously been publicized.

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