- The Senate voted unanimously on Tuesday afternoon to confirm Robert McDonald, President Obama's choice, as the new Veterans Affairs secretary.
- McDonald is a former CEO of Proctor & Gamble as well as having a military background: He is a graduate of West Point Military Academy and served in the Army. Said McDonald, "I think there's no higher calling. If not me, who?"
- McDonald's appointment comes on the heels of a $17-billion compromise bill intended to overhaul the beleaguered VA system. The bill is expected to hit the president's desk before Congress leaves for its five-week summer recess this week.
A vote on the bill could come as soon as today. The legislation addresses lengthy wait times and the widespread falsification of records to cover up delays. The agency provides care to almost 9 million veterans and disability compensation to a further 4 million. It operates almost 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics.
The bill, which requires about $12 billion in new spending and about $5 billion in as-yet unspecified budget cuts, will improve veterans' access to care by expanding the number of available physicians. The VA will be required to pay private doctors to provide care to those veterans who can't get prompt appointments or who live at least 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic. Outside care will be available only to those veterans enrolled as of August 1.
The bill alone will not solve the VA's widespread problems. McDonald's management is essential, and he "will need to take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department's culture of complacency with a climate of accountability," according to Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla), chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.